Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Anton Chekhov - Play Monthly Meme July: Playwrights

This month Let’s Read Plays picked ‘other authors’ theme, which means we can pick any author out of Shakespeare, Greek, or Oscar Wilde (that we have done in the previous months). So, July Play Monthly Meme’s prompt naturally follows this theme accordingly,

“Who is your playwright this month?”

From many playwrights I have wanted to read, I finally picked Anton Chekhov. I have read Oscar Wilde’s plays—and really enjoyed them—so now I want to compare him with Chekhov, who wrote his plays at the same century. I’d be interested to see the differences between them. So, here it is…

Mini bio

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov—a Russian writer, born on January 29, 1860—is known as one of the greatest short stories writers in the world. His other interest and career besides writing was medical doctor, as he once stated: "Medicine is my lawful wife, and literature is my mistress." Although his father is abusive, Chekhov reckoned him as the source of his talent, while his mother left him the soul. His father was also his portrays of hypocrisy he later wrote about.

Lived in poverty, Chekhov began writing short stories and sketches of Russian daily life to financially support the family and pay his tuition fee. Not long after he graduated and practiced as medical doctor, he diagnosed himself with tuberculosis, but hid the fact from family and friends, and kept writing. A celebrated writer named Dmitry Grigorovitch read his story ‘The Huntsman’ and advised Chekhov to write less, but concentrate more on the literary quality. It worked, as in 1887 Chekhov won the Pushkin Prize "for the best literary production distinguished by high artistic worth” for his short stories collection: ‘At Dusk’.

Anton Chekhov died on July 15th, 1904 in the age of 44, leaving his many short stories and plays as a eternal legacy to literary world. Of his most famous plays are: The Cherry Orchard, The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters.


The Cherry Orchard is the first play I’ve ever read from Chekhov, so I can’t be too objective in judging his playwright. However, there are some unique points that I found different from others (Shakespeare, Greek and Oscar Wilde).

First, his scenes portrayal. I was amazed at his detailed and beautiful description of the cherry orchard. It might be because of the theme, but nevertheless I have never found any other play with that detailed portrayal.

Chekhov’s dialogs are sometimes seems incoherent. In the middle of a conversation, suddenly someone would interrupt with a comment that does not relate at all to the conversation. It feels trivial and awkward, but in the end, it turns out to be quite important. Chekhov likes also to let his audience to comprehend some ideas from unexpressed dialogs, which let you reflect quite often while reading, unlike Wilde’s plays which just flow.

It turns out also that Chekhov uses quite many allegories in The Cherry Orchard. I think his plays would be best enjoyed from the book rather than seeing it live-performed. The live performance would be great too, but to grab his meaning, I think one ought to read from the book too.

Who’s your favorite playwright, other than the Bard and Wilde?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Scene on Three (2): The Cherry Orchard

The Cherry Orchard is one of Anton Chekhov’s most famous plays. It’s about a family who is about to lose their estate in an auction because of their debts. Among the most treasured things about the estate, is the cherry orchard, which is claimed as the most beautiful place in the world by one of the characters in the play. The cherry orchard might not be just beautiful, but it keeps family history and secret for years, which bear sentimental memories in the resident’s heart.

For today’s Scene on Three, I picked a passage describing the beauty of the cherry orchard.

“In a field. An old, crooked shrine, which has been long abandoned; near it a well and large stones, which apparently are old tombstone, and an old garden seat. The road is seen to Gaev’s estate. On one side dark poplars, behind them begins the cherry orchard. In the distance is a row of telegraph poles, and far, far away on the horizon are the indistinct signs of a large town, which can only be seen on the finest and clearest days. It is close on sunset.”

I didn’t get used to read a playwright which is describing the scene so detailed, so this one is quite amazed me.

Jadi bagaimana cara berpartisipasi dalam Scene on Three :

  • Tuliskan suatu adegan atau deskripsi pemandangan/manusia/situasi/kota dan sebagainya ke dalam suatu post.
  • Jelaskan mengapa adegan atau deskripsi itu menarik, menurut versi kalian masing-masing.
  • Jangan lupa cantumkan button Scene on Three di dalam post dengan link menuju blog Bacaan B.Zee.
  • Masukkan link post kalian ke link tools yang ada di bawah post Bacaan B.Zee, sekalian saling mengunjungi sesama peserta Scene on Three.
  • Meme ini diadakan setiap tanggal yang mengandung angka tiga, sesuai dengan ketersediaan tanggal di bulan tersebut (tanggal 3, 13, 23, 30, dan 31).

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Cherry Orchard – First Level Inquiry (Grammar Stage)

For WEM project, I will only work on the first and second level inquiries for this play. You can also check my Acts summaries to get a clearer picture of what it’s about. This post is the first level, the grammar stage.


What is the initial question or tension?

From the beginning of Act one the talks about the estate’s sale has been emerged, so I think it’s no longer whether it’s going to be sold, but rather: What will happen (to everyone) if the cherry orchard were sold in the auction?

Where is the point of greatest tension?

The greatest tension is in the party, when people are waiting for Gaev to get the confirmation of the auction’s outcome; of who finally gets the estate. There is a slight hope that Gaev—Lubov’s brother—might be able to buy it because an aunt has granted him the money. The tension is so intense here, because each of their faith will depend on the outcome.

Where does the play’s action reach its climax?

When Lopakhin is stating that it’s he who bought the estate. With this new fact, it is inevitable that Lubov and Gaev will be cut off from their root of history (representing by the cherry orchard), Varya’s life is ruined. She lost a job (she has been the estate’s manager), and probably lost chance to get a marriage proposal (I don’t think she would still want to marry Lopakhin—if he’d really propose—after he showed arrogance about buying the estate). On the other hand, Anya would be free to leave the cherry orchard which she did not love anymore, to marry Trofimov. So, everybody’s future is changed by this fact.

Where is the resolution?

In Act V, when the door is locked after everyone left the house (everyone except Fiers). Locking the door is like locking their previous life, and now they would emerge to a new future (still unknown to few people).

What holds the play’s action together?

Attachment with the past; how people used to irrationally let themselves bound to their past and refuse to let it go, to welcome a new era.


Friday, July 26, 2013

The Cherry Orchard – Acts Summaries

The Cherry Orchard is one of Anton Chekhov’s most famous plays. I picked this play for Let’s Read Plays (other authors theme), and for my WEM Self-Project. This is the second play I read for WEM, and as usual, I’ll begin with the Acts summaries.


Act One

Act one is an introduction of each characters and their conflicts. Mrs. Ravensky (Lubov Andreyevna) is arriving at the family estate after five years leaving it for other country together with Anya, her daughter. Her husband and her only son had died, while her adopted daughter, Varya, has been staying and managing the estate during her absence. The Ravensky is falling into poverty, they could not pay their debts, and the estate—with the beautiful cherry orchard—is threatened to be sold in an auction.

I get the feeling somehow that Lopakhin (a peasant’s son who becomes a businessman) and Pischin (another landowner) are using Mrs. Ravensky. Lopakhin persuades Lubov to cut off the cherry orchard and build a summer villas to get money; while Pischin keeps asking for a loan to pay his mortgage. Lubov rejects Lopakhin’s idea because she loves the cherry orchard, while she asks Gaev—her brother—to give Pischin the money, despite of her near-bankruptcy.

Beyond that, there’re trivial conflicts of Varya—who is expecting to marry Lopakhin but the man hasn’t proposed to her yet; of Dunyasha—the maid servant who likes to dress like a lady, and is proposed by Epikhodov—the clumsy clerk. Dunyasha is annoyed by this, and seems to be more attracted to Yasha—a young footman whom she hasn’t met for five years as he served Mrs. Ravensky in Moskow. While Anya seems to jolt in joy at the news that Peter Trofimov (used to be her death brother’s teacher) is staying there at the moment.

Act Two

In second act we come to know everyone better. Charlotta—governess who likes to wear man’s hat and carry a riffle—is an orphan and feels lonely in this world where she can’t remember her mother and father. Dunyasha expresses her love to Yasha who reacts so disinterestedly; while Epikhodov carries revolver everywhere and implicitly ‘threatens’ to kill himself if Dunyasha doesn’t react to his courting.

Lopakhin still persuades Lubov of the villas idea, and Lubov still persists to reject, which annoys Lopakhin. In her poor condition, Lubov still can’t resist giving gold changes to a tramp.

Trofimov makes an interesting speech about how idle people are; even the intellectuals do nothing important and don’t know the real meaning of ‘working’. Anya and Trofimov discuss their closer relationship—which Trofimov thinks a ‘vulgarity’, and Anya expresses how her love to the cherry orchard has changed. Trofimov expresses how the cherry orchard bears mush of the history of Ravensky ancestors, and that the future lays onto real action (works). He persuades her to leave that place.

Act Three

The night of the auction, the Ravenskys have a party. Gaev is expected to buy the estate as Anya’s grandmother had granted him the money. He and Lopakhin didn’t appear until late at night, making the whole family in distress.

Meanwhile, Varya doubts that Lopakhin would ever propose to her because he is too pre-occupied with business. She also thinks that if she just possesses money, she would go to the convent if the estate is sold.

Act Four

Lubov, in her anxiety to hear the auction result, tells Trofimov about her lover who has been taking advantage of her. He is now severely ill in Paris and asks Lubov to come there. Trofimov says that the auction result hardly means anything and that Lubov should have thinking about the future instead. He also frankly tells Lubov that she better ignores her lover as the man has robbed her. Lubov is angry about this.

An old servant named Fiers remarks that as Ravensky has become poor, the guess at their party has greatly changed. No barons or counts are eager to come now; it’s even difficult to get a station master to come. Meanwhile, Varya cries because Trofimov keeps teasing her as Madame Lopakhin.

Finally Lopakhin and Gaev arrive at the party; the first looks happy while the latter tired. It appears that Lopakhin has bought the estate for himself, defeating Gaev. It means that the Ravenskys must leave the estate, and their dearest cherry orchard will be cut down to make space for the villas building. Lopakhin reflects how he had been succeeded to own the estate where his father and grandfather used to work on as slaves. Lubov weeps and Varya throws away her keys. Lopakhin reproaches Lubov for not listening to his suggestion; while he expresses his eagerness to axe the cherry trees, although not long before he says that the cherry orchard is ‘the most beautiful place in the world’.

Vacating the house is quite a scene. Lopakhin offers a loan to Trofimov, which the latter rejects because he is a man of free. Meanwhile, Anya, Varya and Lubov all concern about Fiers; whether he has been transported to the hospital, which Yasha confirms that he had given the order, and that ‘they’ must have done that. Dunyasha cries over her separation from Yasha, whom takes it very coldly. Varya is the most distressed soul among others because Lopakhin never proposes to her until the end amid Lubov’s personal request to him. Meanwhile, Anya and Trofimov seem to be the happiest couple of all; they look at the future as a brighter one than what they would leave behind. Anya even convinces her mother that they would plant cherries in a new orchard, and that it would be more beautiful than theirs.

*spoiler* Lubov and Gaev are the last to exit the house before Lopakhin locks every door as he will leave for a quite long time. For a moment silence fell on to the empty house. But, it soon appears that it’s not quite empty, because old Fiers is actually still in the locked house, undetected by others!! Oh my… what an ending!


Monday, July 22, 2013

Dante’s Purgatorio: The Earthly Paradise

This is the last part of Purgatorio, the highest level of Mount of Purgatory: The Earthly Paradise, which Dante reaches after passing all the seven terraces: Terrace1-2, Terrace 3-5, Terrace 6-7, as well as Ante-Purgatory.

Beatrice Addressing Dante, by William Blake

Dante leaves the Mountainside freely, now takes lead of his two teachers who are now following him silently from behind. He enters the Divine wood, dark and beautiful in the nature, and meets a clear dark water stream. Across it he sees a beautiful lady is gathering flowers while singing. It is Matilda (another symbol of active spiritual life). Dante questions her about the nature of the Garden, and she explains that it is the Garden that God created before Adam and Eve fell into sin. The Garden is created for goodness, as Man is destined for goodness. It was raised above the storms of Earth as a place of peace, a divine pledge. The Man did not stay there long because of his own fault. The water flows from God, and the one at one side washes away the memory of sin, while the other one keeps the memory of good deeds. This place is the Earthly Paradise; a place of peace, beauty, humanism, and classical wisdom.

Resuming his journey following Matilda’s step, Dante sees a glowing light flooding into the forest, accompanied by a sweet melody. Dante condemns Adam’s fall that unveiled his eyes from these beauteous scene. Then suddenly the air turns to blazing fire. Seven branched candlesticks appear, representing seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are singing ‘Hosanna’. Behind them, Dante sees people bringing seven banners, representing the seven sacraments as the works of the seven gifts of Holy Spirit. Behind them are twenty four elders (representing books of Old Testament) and four creatures (as in the books of Revelation and Ezekiel).

There are also two-wheel chariot (representing contemplative and active life in Church). After that, Dante sees two old men: Luke and Paul, followed by the four writers of the epistles: Paul, James, Peter and Jude. On their back is John the Divine, author of book of Revelation. Then suddenly Dante hears a clap of thunder that the procession into a halt. The Elders turns to the Chariot, singing the Song of Solomon. The Saints will rise from their tombs and reunite with their bodies singing Hallelujah on the Day of Judgment; so as a hundreds spirit inside the Chariot.

Dante, who is now fit to have a visionary revelation, sees Beatrice appears among the cascade of flowers. But as Beatrice appears, Virgil vanishes from Dante’s side. Dante cries at the separation. Beatrice warns him not to cry, and that he would weep more soon. She scowls at Dante’s temerity to approach the Mount, and when he turns his look at the water of Lethe (that is supposed to erase memories) he could still see his memories (symbol of seeing into one’s soul), which makes him ashamed. Beatrice explains to the Angels how Dante was good in his virtues when Beatrice was alive and guiding him, but he turned to the opposite side after her death. Even when she appeared in his dream, Dante kept unchanged. The only way Beatrice could save him was by asking Virgil to guide him through Inferno. And now to pass the Lethe, Dante must repent by shedding tears.

Dante has come to the threshold of his purification. Here he confesses his weakness of worldly distractions that had led him to moral failing, while Beatrice rebukes him. Dante is ashamed to the accusation, and repents. At last Matilda comes and takes Dante with her over the Lethe, where he hears Asperges Me (symbol of baptism). Matilda forces him to drink the Lethe water which will wash away any memory of sin from his mind. Cleansed, Dante is brought by four ‘cardinals’ to see Beatrice’s eyes, through which he sees Christ in the shape of double nature of a Grifon.

Adjusting his sight, Dante then watches the Divine Pageant turns away to the right. Dante, Matilda and Statius follow the right wheel of the Chariot through the forest of Earthly Paradise. Beatrice descends from the Chariot, and all of them surround a bare tree which is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (symbolizing earthly empire). The Grifon (Christ) is blessed for not taking anything from the tree (temporal powers of the earth). Grifon then takes the Chariot pole within the Tree which appears to be the Cross, and binds it to the Tree (linking the Church and the empire but maintaining each in its sphere).

People sing a hymn that Dante doesn’t understand; and he soon falls asleep. He awakes just like the three disciples: Peter, John and James has been brought at the Transfiguration. Dante finds Matilda bending over him, showing him that Beatrice is sitting on the root of the Tree (Rome—after the Church and the Empire has been united), watching the four cardinals and three theological who carries Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirits. Beatrice then instructs Dante to write about the Chariot as he would see it, when he returns on earth (these would be symbolizing the history of the Church and the Empire).

Obediently Dante sees consecutively: the eagle (ten persecutions of the Church by Roman emperors from Nero to Diocletian), the vixen (heresies of the early Church, suppressed by the writings of the Fathers), then the eagle descends (the donation from Constantine to the Church in the era of Pope Sylvester I, which Dante sees as the source of involvement of the Church in temporal power, and Constantine involvement to the Church). Then the ground under the Chariot is opened, and from it emerges the dragon with its spiteful tail (Islamic schism), leaving feathers cover the Chariot when it leaves (temporal power and worldly wealth) which makes Church becomes the Monster with the seven capital sins as its heads. Seated on the Monster, the whore (corrupted Papacy under Boniface VIII and Clement V); the giant kisses the whore (French dynasty, especially Philip the Fair who connived with Clement V to move the papal court to Avignon), but when she turns her eyes to Dante, the giant scourges her and looses the monster. Beatrice then implies that the Church is corrupted but will be cleansed.

After that, Beatrice prophecies that the Church will gain its power and its Divine origin once more; that a new leader will come and get the Church rid of its corruption. She says it’s a blasphemy, that the tree of the Empire has been twice despoiled (by Adam, by taking the apple, and by the wood, the chariot pole, being taken to form the Cross). Beatrice reminds Dante to write all about it.

Finally they reach the source of Lethe and Eunoë; Dante is amazed at the nature of the streams. Beatrice reminds Dante that the confession and the revelation of Divine Pageant have erased his memory of virtuous actions. Matilda then leads Dante and Statius to drink the water from Eunoë to restore the memory of it. The water refreshes Dante, renews and purifies him, so that he is ready now to climb to Paradise.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Dante’s Purgatorio: Terrace 6 – 7

Following my summarizes of Ante-Purgatory, Terrace 1-2, Terrace 3 – 5, these are the two final terraces of Purgatory where Dante is purged from his sins. It’s not the end of Purgatorio, though, as after this Dante would still go through The Earthly Paradise, the last step towards Paradise! Meanwhile, here are the sixth and seventh terraces…

Terrace 6 – The Gluttonous

Another letter P has been erased from Dante’s forehead by the Angel of Liberality. Statius tells them that avarice is not his sin; it’s prodigality—his excessive and wasteful spending. Fortunately he read Virgil’s Aeneid which brought him more to Christianity, for his Thebaid has a touch of Paganism.

Now the three poets resume their journey together to sixth terrace. There they find a tree heavy with fruits and fruity fragrance; the smell triggers the desires on food and drink. It tantalizes the spirits who are punished with gluttony sin; while a voice retells about Mary who thought about the host’ honour at the Cana marriage instead of herself, and John the Baptist who merely eats honey and locust in the desert. The spirits purge themselves from gluttony sin by using their mouths for singing and weeping.

Dante then meets his friend Forese Donati, now a skinny man with leprosy, who is purging his sin of gluttony, thanks to his wife who prays for him. He also criticizes the immodesty of Florence women and prophesies something bad would happen to them. Forese also prophesies Dante’s befriending the beautiful Genthucca.

After Forese left them, the three poets reach a second-tree, which is grafted from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, whose fruit Eve had eaten from. Some spirits plead with it, but the tree abandons them. So the excessive desire of food and drink is now replaced with that of knowledge, and the spirits are punished for that. The Angel of Temperance now appears, showing the next path to Dante before clearing one letter P’s from his forehead.

Meanwhile, Dante still has an unanswered question: how come the spirit they have just left was starving when food wasn’t necessary anymore. In it, he wants to know about the nature of soul after death. Statius provides him the knowledge about human embryology. When the ‘perfect blood’ of man and woman are mixed—the male’s active, the female’s passive—it has power to invigorate life, creates the embryo, and develops organs. The embryo possesses life (as in plants), and sensation and feeling (as in animals). An Arabian physician and commentator on Aristotle, Averroës, shared the same theory; but Dante (through Statius) disagrees with him. He believes that as soon as the brain is complete, God breaths rational spirit into it, which finally becomes one unified soul that exists after death. After death the soul leaves the body, keeping memory, intellect and will with it, unto the after life. It forms a shadow in the air, which we call spirit.

Terrace 7 – The Lust

Reaching the seventh terrace, where sinners of Lust are purged. They are welcomed by a narrow path; from one side of it flames hurl from the down cliff, while on the other the danger of falling. From the burning flames, Dante hears the spirits walking through the flames while singing Matin hymn, the opening of a prayer for protection against lustfulness. They also mention the examples of chastity: Mary and Diana.

Couples cannot embrace one another, they merely exchanges friendly kisses. Lustful is one of Dante’s weaknesses when he fell in love with Beatrice. But after Beatrice died, he transformed his courtly love into a more divine and spiritual one; through Beatrice, Dante sees God.

An Angel appears from within the flames and tells Dante not to step further unless he has been bitten by the fire first. Virgil encourages the terrified Dante to have faith and go through the flames that won’t hurt him; only the name of Beatrice that really brings Dante encouragement to get through.

Out of the flames, the three of them reaches an ascending way through a rock. They were soon overcome with sleep; Dante—similizes himself as a goat, while his two teachers are as his shepherds who are guiding him in his reflection of the past. Then Dante has another dream….

A young beautiful lady gathering flowers for a garland appears to be Leah (symbol of actions), while her sister Rachel (symbol of contemplation) appears as a reflection from a mirror. It tells Dante that in trying to reach Heaven, contemplation is much better than action (compare with Mary and Martha in Bible). When he wakes up from his dream, Virgil tells Dante that it’s time for them to separate. Virgil has been safely guiding Dante into the end of his passage through Purgatory, having gained understanding and love, things that Virgil himself, as teacher, failed to reach. Now Dante is purged, and his free-will will guide him directly towards the good.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Classics That Changed My Way of Thinking: The Classics Club July Meme

I have delayed to answer this month’s The Classics Club meme until now, to dig my memories about every classic I have been reading, and when is it that I was so enlightened to  say that certain classics have had some contribution in changing my life? And the final answer came to me right after finishing a book. So, here they are….

What classic book has changed your view on life, social mores, political views, or religion?


Agatha Christie’s

The very first classics I read—though I didn’t realize it as classics at that time—was Agatha Christie’s. I was in seventh grade; and the first Christie that intrigued me one day when I was hanging around in school library was After The Funeral. And after that, I read more and more Agatha Christies. I borrowed from the library for a couple of times, but after that my parents allowed me to pick any Agatha Christie title whenever we went to bookstore once a month. Sometimes they let me pick two at a time, when I could not choose which one I want most (one of my best inventions as a child, actually! LOL).

Reading Agatha Christie was my first experience of thinking and reflecting not as a child. After being fed up with lulling tales of ‘happily-ever-after’ and ‘good-and-evil-as-white-and-black’ kinds of things for years, I was like being thrust into a new world of reality by Agatha Christie’s crime stories. At that time my comprehension was that there were two groups of humans: the good (charming appearances, good manners, kind and generous), and the evil (the opposite values of the good). I thought we all get it from our birth; meaning that we are born as either good or evil.

Agatha Christie’s novels opened my mind that good and evil are not as black and white. Most of the murderers in her books are ordinary people, even good people who are generous to their friends and relatives. However, one little stint in their history, or one small wrong decision could turn them to a murderer. And what shocked me at that time was how easy it is to turn into evil. In fact, it only requires one decision, and a person—no matter how good his/her life for years—once he/she committed a murder, he/she would be a murderer, he/she has stepped the threshold of being evil. It was when I first learned that being good or evil is a personal choice, and our choices would have its consequences. I think it was also the first time I ever learned about conscience.

Reading Agatha Christie’s was not for me merely enjoying the mystery, but more about digging into human psychology and playing with the “if” questions: If I were the murderer, if I had the same personality, if I faced the same conflict, would I decide to do the same thing aka to commit murder? Is it really the only way out? What would happen if I didn’t do the same thing, would it be worse than committing murder?

And so….Agatha Christie’s is the first classics that changed my way of viewing reality about good and evil in life.

The second one is….


Harry Potter series

Yes, to me Harry Potter will always be a classic, because it taught me much about the power of Divine Love.

Since I finished reading the seventh book (Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows) about five or six years ago, I have realized that J.K. Rowling meant to talk about Love as the most powerful power; that there won’t be any other power that can beat it. By talking about Love, of course she meant God, our Creator. I was amazed at that time by the depth of this story, despite of the popular theme of fantasy.

However, it’s not until now that I realize how Harry Potter has, in a way, changed my way of viewing life. I have written about this in my imaginary letter to Dumbledore, to participate in a meme. In short, Harry Potter series has reminded me that Love is the most powerful weapon God has armed us to fight any dark or evil power, no matter invincible it might have been, if only we have enough faith to trust Him. While people were questioning how my family—vulnerable and innocent as we were—would be able to survive from the wrath of that evil power, we could only continue on praying and ‘embracing’ each others in Love, while hoping everything would get better soon. And it did! Believe it or not, it did! Our friends suggested that we ‘fight back’, but it’s not our intention. We believe that God will take care of us, and because we have that most powerful weapon in the world, free and abundantly: LOVE!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Weekend Quote 21: Purgatorio

For more than a week I have been delving into Dante’s Purgatorio, and this particular quote has been captured my mind.

“Insane is he who hopeth that our reason
Can traverse the illimitable way,
Which the one Substance in three Persons follows!

Mortals, remain contented at the ‘Quia’;
For if ye had been able to see all,
No need there were for Mary to give birth.”

These two stanzas appear within the Ante-Purgatory, in Canto III. Here Virgil scolds Dante for his thirst of knowledge about Purgatory and its mysterious nature. Virgil says that God only let humans to know part of its existence in the Universe; and men cannot ask for more.

Dante mentions about ‘the one Substance in three Persons follows, and I think he refers to The Holy Trinity; which we could never really understand. It is when humans cannot understand all, will there be faith, because faith is the one that fills the gap between what we know and what we don’t.

Dante insists that humans should remain content with the ‘what’ (quia), while keep being blind from the ‘why’. For if human get to know everything, Christ would not have ever to be sacrificed for us.

Thank you Dante (and Virgil) for the enlightenment! For I believe that thirst of knowledge leads us to many sins, including Pride and Avaricious, and it is what made Adam and Eve fell to sin in the first place.

What do you think?

Weekend Quote is a meme hosted by by Half-Filled Attic. Feel free to join. You can:
  • Give the context of the quote
  • Give your opinion whether you agree or disagree with it
  • Share your experience related to the quote
  • Share similar quotes you remember
  • Or anything else. Just have fun with the quote.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Dante’s Purgatorio: Terrace 3 - 5

Continuing Dante’s Purgatorio, these are my summary for the third, fourth and fifth terraces. Previously I have also posted the Ante-Purgatory and Terrace 1 and 2.

Terrace 3 – The Wrathful

Entering the third terrace, Dante has a vision that he is in a temple among many others, when a lady enters and says: “Son, why in this manner hast thou dealt with us? Lo, sorrowing thy father and myself, were seeking for thee” which was what Mary told Jesus in the temple when he was a boy, a sign of gentleness. Dante also envisions how wrathful people were stoning St. Stephen, but he asked God to forgive them. Virgil again warns Dante to not being lazy; and the night soon falls enveloping them with darkness and smoke.

The smoke here is very thick that Dante could not see, and therefore need to be guided by Virgil. He hears voices praying Agnus Dei which are sung by the spirits to untie their angers. One spirit, Marco Lombard, a Venetian courtier dismisses the idea that Heaven dictates its will to human kind; for we have been granted free-will to accept the good and dismiss the bad. So the sin is actually caused by ourselves. We were born like a pure and innocent child sprung from our Creator, full of goodness, and can stay like that only if we maintain our love pure. That is why we need to have good Law and ruler as curb to guide our soul. Marco laments then the corrupt nation and Church, and it is bad leadership that makes the world sinful. Rome had used to separate nation from religion, but now that the two are linked, it goes wrong. Marco laments the decreasing of Lombardy after Frederick II ruled it. Thus Marco is sinned for being wrathful. After the conversation, the Angel of Meekness appears to guide them.

Terrace 4 – Sloth

Dante and Virgil are stuck before entering the fourth terrace. Dante begs Virgil to explain the nature of Purgatory. According to Virgil, there are two kinds of Love: natural love, which is free of error, and rational love, which can err. Sin is the misuse of free-will, the result of the error of love. While in Inferno love is abused, in Purgatory love is re-oriented. Rational love can turn to sin when it is wrongly directed to evil ends: Pride, Envy, Wrath or other wrong ends: Sloth, Avarice, Gluttony, and Lust. As rational love opposes hatred towards Creator and self-hatred, Virgil concludes that the existence of community and relationship are the cause of it.

Dante then asks about earthly love; to which Virgil answers that moral and ethics are the products of our continuous choices in judgment. Dante’s earthly love for Beatrice might be purged here in the Purgatory.

Now Dante sees some spirits hurrying to take up their penance; they are longing to be purged from their sins. The spirits point out two examples of Sloth: the Israeli who delayed their journey after being released from Egypt, and Aeneas' followers who chose to stay behind instead of heading to Italy. Many thoughts come to Dante after that and he is falling into his second dream.

This time Dante sees the Siren--half woman half bird--approaches him and sings her alluring song, just as when she lured Ulysses' sailors to sail off course. The Siren is a symbol of temptation, which leads to avarice, gluttony and lust sins. A saintly lady (symbol of the righteousness) asks Virgil to snatch the Siren from Dante's dream, and with that, Dante wakes. Apparently, lust is one of Dante's weaknesses.

With burden in his thought, Dante resumes his journey with Virgil, while a soft voice of Angel of Zeal shows them the path upwards, and erase another letter P from his forehead. Apparently Dante still cannot release himself from his dream, that Virgil scolds him: 'Remorse is fine but excessive dwelling on evil may be an obstacle.’ [source] With that Dante unleashes himself from his remorse, and climbs to the next terrace.

Terrace 5 - The Avaricious

The first thing Dante sees on Terrace five is people lying on the ground, weeping, face downwards, and repeating verse from Psalm 119. They are the avaricious souls. One of them is Adrian V, the Pope who was bound to his family's greatness before repented after elected as a Pope. And because of his late repentance, he now deserves to be purged there.

Dante then accursed avarice (she-wolf in Inferno), before hearing weeping from a spirit which gives us few examples of poverty that is liberating: to Mary, who was so poor that the inns refused her to stay for laboring the Child; to Saint Nicholas of Bari, who sent gifts for poor girls so that they could pay their dowry and saved their honour. The spirit appears to be Hugh Capet, King of France who descended the Philip’s and the Louis’. Hugh and Dante then discuss examples of avarice sins: Pygmalion—who killed Dido’s husband for gold, Midas, Sapphira and Ananias—for their hypocrisy about their wealth and rebuked by Peter, and Crassus.

Then there’s an earthquake that shook the Mount, which encourages the spirits to sing ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’. Dante and Virgil stand still, as still as the shepherds when hearing Angels’ voices at Child’s birth. Dante is anxious to know the cause of the earthquake, yet he is afraid of asking, so he just resumes his journey. Meanwhile, Dante’s existing thirst of knowledge can only be quenched by the Heavenly water of truth (just as what Christ said to the Samarian woman); fortunately then, he met Statius, a Roman Poet who can satisfy this, instead of Virgil, whose philosophy is too earthly.

Statius explained that the earthquake happens when a soul feels himself purged, and is ready rise above to Heaven. It causes earthquake because the free-will has gripped the soul and empower it to rise freely. The earthquake is also symbolism of the earthquake that separates Roman Empire before and after Christ. Statius tells then his own history and how Virgil’s Aeneid has been his influence. Dante than introduces Statius to Virgil himself, and both Poets shares humility and love to each other.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Dante’s Purgatorio: Terrace 1 - 2

Following my first post of Purgatorio review posts (Ante-Purgatory), now Dante brings us to the terraces of Purgatory. There are seven of them, and this second post will cover the first two of them.

Terrace 1 – The Proud

Dante and Virgil enter pass the threshold and they cannot look back. They are first met by wavering rocks which are slackening their pace. There is a high wall where is sculpted the figure of Mary’s Annunciation by Gabriel The Archangel, the example of humility that corrects pride. There is also the sculpture of King David and the Ark of the Covenant, with the scornful Michal, daughter of Saul [from Old Testament: 2 Samuel 6]. Next to it the sculpture of Emperor Trajan shows compassion towards a widow.

Dante explains that Purgatory put burdens to sinner, not punishment; the Proud people must bear burden to force them to humility. Dante reminds us that we are only worms which are going to transform into butterflies; and that’s why we need to be humble. The proud sinners then paraphrase the Lord’s Prayer (which I think is picked from ‘Our Father’), emphasizing the humility. They have prayed for us, and Dante suggests that we reciprocate by praying for the dead.

Dante also points out artistic pride, where poets or painters passionately compete to supersede each other, through a testimony from Oderisi of Gubbio. He also gives an example of humility through the story of Provenzan Salvani who wore beggar’s clothes to procure the ransom of his friends’ imprisonment. For what he’d done, God granted him a place in Purgatory.

Then Dante sees many sinners of Proud, among them are Satan--a nobler creature than others yet had fallen so deeply from Heaven; Saul, Jupiter, Athena, Apollo, etc. At the end of their visit to first terrace, The Angel of Humility welcomes them and promises them a safe journey.

When climbing further stairs, Dante feels himself much lighter than when he's still at the Terrace. Virgil explains that when each of letter P's were erased, Dante would feel his step lighter, and finally takes the journey more as a pleasure than a burden. When Dante feels his face, one letter has indeed erased.

Terrace 2 - The Envious

The second terrace is quite plain, with livid color; here Virgil uses sun rays as his guide. They hear voices of, but can't see, spirits in the air. The first one represents Mary's words at the wedding in Cana: "They have no wine." The second one says: "I am Orestes" (about his friendship with Pylades). And the last one: "Love those from whom ye have had evil" (Matthew's Gospel of loving instead of hating). They're all about Love which would scourge the sin of Envious.

Then Dante saw the spirits in coarse cloak who cried their prayers to Mary, St. Peter and Michael the Archangel. They look like blind beggars begging for alms from Churches, as their eyelids are pierced with iron wire as the punishment. A spirit called Sapia Saracini tells her story, how she had rejoiced upon the massacre and defeat of Sienna, and how the prayers of a padre (for she was generous at the end of her life) has reduced her punishment at Purgatory.

At the end of their journey at this terrace, they hear cries of Envies, first from Cain who envied then murdered Abel: “Shall slay me whosoever findeth me!” and next is of Aglaurus who envied her sister: “I am Aglaurus, who become a stone.” Virgil admonishes human kinds for their ignorance towards Heaven’s calls, and let their eyes ‘looking on the ground’ instead.

The sun ray reflects brilliantly into Dante’s eyes that even when he shades his sight, it still blinds him. Virgil tells him that it’s Heavenly light brought by a messenger (Angel of Fraternal Love) who is coming to them, and soon it won’t bring pain anymore but joy. Their climb is now easier; and Dante asks Virgil the meaning of division and partnership. Virgil explains that envy destroys fraternal love, while sharing goodness increases love; and that the more Heavenly love we share, the more we gain, just as the rays reflect from the mirror. Virgil promises Dante that Beatrice would see him to explain more; and with that, one more P’s is erased from Dante’s forehead.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Dante’s Purgatorio – Ante-Purgatory

Purgatorio is the second part of Dante’s The Divine Comedy. While Inferno (Hell) is the place to punish sinners, Purgatory is a place where sinners, who repented before their deaths, be purged from their sin, to make them holy before ascending to Heaven. Purgatory is portrayed as a high mountain towards Heaven above. The idea of Purgatory shows how God is merciful, and how He desires the more souls to seek for and come to Him. As with Inferno, in Purgatorio Dante also tells about a lot of topics; historical, spiritual, and even philosophical. That’s why you may find this review much longer than other books, because I intended to take notes of important events and values of the whole poem. I try to break it down to several posts and sub-titles to make this review more comfortable to read. This first post is about Ante-Purgatory, the shores of Purgatory, the lowest level of the mountain.

Ante-Purgatory – The Excommunicate and Late Repentant

Meeting Cato and contradicting Plato

Dante still has his journey guided by Virgil. Leaving the darkness of Inferno behind, they approach the land of purging human’s sin before they ascend to Heaven. Purgatory is guarded by Cato, the Roman poet. The atmosphere of this poem is very different with Inferno; while Inferno is choking and hopeless, Purgatory is more hopeful and relieving, even the sceneries are more beautiful.

One of the souls Dante meets here tells how he ends up in Purgatory; it’s because right after he was stabbed, he asks for God’s mercy, and He puts him in Purgatory where he must wait. He says also that prayers from the livings are needed to help the sinners ascend to Heaven sooner. Without those prayers, the sinners—although repent at the end—would have to spend thirty times the duration of their insolent lives on earth (that is freaking!). Dante also contradicts Plato’s philosophy that soul is divided into two; each of them works by itself. Dante believes that soul is united and whole.

Focus and effort are needed in Purgatory

While climbing the steep mountain in Purgatory Dante feels exhausted; Virgil encourages him to keep dragging himself up. It shows how to be purged from sin we must put efforts to climb, while to descend to ‘Hell’ is much easier. Belacqua—Dante’s lazy friend—says that he had postponed his repentant until the last minutes, that he must now wait a lifetime in Purgatory, so he must not he hasten to climb. That must be the wrong attitude when we are sinned, but which most of us often do! Once Dante hears voices that split his attention; Virgil scolds him for this distraction. He tells Dante to avoid too much reflection that disturbs his focus.

The efficacy of prayer and Dante’s speech

A group of shades (Dante calls them ‘shades’ instead of ‘souls’ like in Inferno) say that they have died of violence, but as they had repented while dying, God puts them in Purgatory while filling them with the desire to seek for Him. They are hoping that someone else may pray for them to hasten their ascent to Heaven. At this point Dante criticizes Virgil for writing denial of the efficacy of prayer in Aeneid. Virgil explains that Aeneid was written in the Pagan world, when people were not united with God.

After meeting his fellow poet Sordello, Dante then makes speech about the disastrous Italy; lamenting it as a wretched country, abandoned by German Emperor—Albert, Justinian (Byzantine Emperor) and the clergy. He curses the endless feuds of Montagues and Capulets in Verona, and many other schisms. It is Dante’s expression of his frustration towards his country who has banished him. His ideal form of country is where politics and religion (Church) be separated. He compares the tyrant cities with Marcellus who conspired against Caesar. It is indeed one powerful speech!

Negligent rulers and the Angels

From Sordello Dante learns that there are not fixed places in Purgatory (unlike Hell with the circles); there is a degree of freedom as it is the place of spiritual pilgrimage. Sordello also agrees to be Dante and Virgil’s guide. They reached a beautiful landscape on a hollow valley which is rich in colour and odour; while they hear spirits singing Salve Regina, seems that they are the shades of the negligent Kings and rulers’. A lot of historical European leaders are mentioned here.

In the evening (when regret and hope arise), Dante sees the spirits raise their faces and hands up to God, singing hymn of prayer before the end of the day. Then pair of Angels who guard the gate of Eden descend; they will guard the spirits from the serpent (temptation) who used to come at the end of day. After sunset Dante meets Judge Nino; who is amazed that Dante travels there as a living creature; a sign of God’s graceful. He then asks Dante to tell his daughter to pray for him.

When Dante sets his eyes above to Heaven he sees three flames—which represents Faith, Hope and Charity [source]. Then comes a serpent—which perhaps the one who had seduced Eve to eat the forbidden fruit—twisting its head to its tail forming a circle, just like eternal circle of sin there is in this world. The Angels transforms into falcons, and flying to drive the serpent away.

Dante’s first dream and entering Purgatory’s gate

Overcomes with lack of sleep—Dante has spent three sleepless nights (from the first he arrived at Inferno)—Dante has his first dream. A flying golden eagle has snatched him and together they are burned into fire, just like phoenix. When Dante awakes, Virgil encourages him by telling that when he’s asleep, Lucia came and brought the sleeping Dante upwards, followed by Virgil, to make their journey easier. And so, they reach the gate of Purgatory.

They reach a gate with three steps of various colors, and an Angel sits upon the threshold on the top step. Apparently the gate is a symbolic of Sacrament of Penance; the Angel is the priest, the three steps are three stages in the Sacrament: Repentance, Confession, and Forgiveness [source]. When Dante falls on his knees by the Angel’s feet begging for the gate opening, the Angel inscribes seven P’s on his forehead representing seven capital sins that he need to be purged. The Angel puts two keys—silver and gold—and with that he lets Dante and Virgil enter the gate.

*Posts about the seven terraces will follow.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Richard III – Final Review

Richard III is the first Shakespeare historical themed play I‘ve ever read, and I can say now that I prefer politics-with-tragedy theme more than any others. After Julius Caesar, I think Richard III has become my new favorite. I enjoyed the clever speeches of Richard and the overall story.

The story begins when England’s two royal Houses of Plantagenet dynasty, Lancaster and York, have just put on a peace treaty after their long time war. It was now Richard’s brother, Edward, who ruled as King of England. Richard seemed to be bored at the idleness of peaceful time, and being encouraged by his high ambition, he invented a bloody strategy to snatch the throne from Edward, and at the same time thwarted the others whom he’s afraid would prevent his plan.

Helped by his friends—Buckingham was his chief supporter—Richard sent murderer to kill a lot of people, including his closest relatives. To highlight his cold heart, even the murderer—who supposed to kill two little innocent princes Prince Edward and Duke of York—felt remorse for a moment, before finally slain them; while Richard took it very lightly. Richard knew that to legitimately take over the throne he must make it desired by the citizens. He worked on it cleverly, and it rewarded him the throne of England.

At this stage he should have been invincible; however as he had reached the throne by deceitful ways, Richard became paranoid of his friends. Small mistakes in replying him could raise Richard’s suspicion; his Kingdom was built on the fragile foundation of fear. Resentful friends betrayed him and supported Earl of Richmond (Henry Tudor) in the Battle of Bosworth, where Richard was finally defeated by Richmond, and England was peaceful once again under King Henry VII (aka Richmond).

Despite of the lack of conscience, Richard’s diplomacy skill deserves two thumbs up. Twice he had had almost-impossible-to-win arguments. First, to propose Lady Anne—whose husband he had just killed—to be his wife. Second is to propose to the Queen (Elizabeth) to marry her daughter; while Richard knows how Elizabeth hates him so much. I know it’s quite absurd how those two ladies could ever agree with him; but nonetheless, Richard’s speeches are very clever and persuasive. And he won both of them! He reminds me a bit of Petruchio in Taming of the Shrew.

Beyond that, it is very hard to sympathize with Richard; he is just a true villain with corrupted soul from the beginning of the play. Nonetheless, Richard is the most interesting character in this play, and learning a bit of his history is quite enjoyable. Here we have battle, murders, a bit of romance, ghost apparition and superstitious, as always with Shakespeare tragedies. I have only one complaint. In the version I read (ebook from feedbooks), the mentioning of the characters are often inconsistent. One example, Lord Stanley is sometimes mentioned too as Derby, which is often confusing.

Four and a half stars for Richard III. You can read my further analysis on this play in my WEM posts.


Let’s Read Plays History theme

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Richard III – Logic Stage (2nd Level) Inquiry

Following the Grammar Stage inquiry, these are the further inquiries for the second level: Logic Stage. I have browsed the third level inquiry, the rhetoric stage, and found that we are required to take a more active role by directing the play on stage in our way. As I find this would be too consuming for me, and I don’t think I’d really need it, I decide to skip this stage; and it means this Logic Stage inquiry would be my final post for my WEM Self-Project, before I top my reading of Richard III with a final review in the few next days.

David Garrick as Richard III, by William Hogarth, approx. 1745
"Is there a murderer here?"

What genre does this play resemble?

This play is definitely a tragedy; telling the tale of the fall of Richard III. He has earned the crown by shedding too much blood; he built it not on the foundation of trust and respect, but on cruelty and fear which in the end proved to be the main cause of his fall.

Why did the playwright choose this particular set of techniques to move the play along? Is there some match between the genre and the subject of the play?

The nature of the story suits the genre well. The way Richard III ascended to the throne is quite smart, although harsh and illegal. However, it is because of the harsh way, that he finally lost his life. After sacrificing his conscience by murdering large numbers of men, Richard died only after two years, he must die in a battle. That is a tragedy.

How do the characters speak? Do their speech patterns differ?

Here I am comparing Richard and Richmond, because in the end they would fight each other over the throne and it would be interesting to compare their speech patterns. Richard’s speech is always with colors of hatred, disappointment of the world, suspicion; he seems to build a barrier against others. His speech reflects also his high determination and focus, passion of revenge and true spirit to do evil.

“I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinish’d, sent before my time…”

“Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time…”

“I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous…”

(When Catesby suggested him to withdraw from battle field after he lost his horse, Richard insisted)
“Slave, I have set my life upon a cast,
And I will stand the hazard of the die…”

While Richard always addresses his friends and armies merely as tools or slaves to reach his ambition, Richmond’s approach to his armies and friends is full of tenderness and care.

“Fellow in arms, and my most loving friends…”

His speech is calm, flowing in beauteous words, but full of authority. And he often carries the name of God in his speech.

“In God’s name, cheerly on, courageous friends,
To reap the harvest of perpetual peace
By this one bloody trial of sharp war.”

“All for our vantage. Then, in God’s name, march…”

While Richard’s speech produces a combination of over confidence and vigor, Richmond’s is reassuring and produces hope.

“The weary sun hath made a golden set,
And by the bright track of his fiery car,
Gives signal, of a goodly day to-morrow…”

Does the playwright lead you into a satisfying resolution?

My disappointment is that Richard’s death scene is not even dramatized here. I think, after the death of so many of Richard’s brutal murder victims, his own death would be tragic, and Richmond’s win (the resolution) would have been more glorious.

What is the play’s theme?

Why did Shakespeare take the trouble to re-write the history of this particular King of England to a play? First, I think, because Shakespeare was vexed by the War of Roses, a long enmity between House of Lancaster and York—which reminds me of the similar theme in Romeo and Juliet. It must have been frustrating for England when the royal family’s disputes affected their lives too. Second, Shakespeare might want to particularly point out the consequence of a royal family; where marriages are used for politics, and thus ruining families.