Wednesday, 30 May 2012

#58 A Bloody Banquet

The play A Bloody Banquet was written mostly by Middleton and also be Thomas Dekker.  The title of the play suggests exactly what happens at the end.  It foreshadows a very memorable and grotesque scene, of which is the only part of the play that was memorable for me.  This was a play with some structural problems and some important stuff left unsaid.

The the ending involved the adulteress Queen being force fed her lover Tymethes.   She has to drink blood from his skull, and eat his flesh while her husband looks on.  Not only that, but he invited pilgrims into the court to also see this spectacle.  And it turns out that one of the pilgrim's was Tymethe's father, though he didn't know until someone mentioned the name of the corpse.  I can only imagine the stillness and uncomfortable feelings of the characters in the play.  Watching cannibalism and the husband proud of his punishment on his wife.  Well of course the father of Tymethes isn't going to just sit around and do nothing, he makes himself known as well as his associates.  The husband knowing he is beat first kills his wife the Queen and then is stabbed to death numerously.  And that is a bloody banquet.  I did like the play though, despite some missing passages and that I felt it could have been longer at parts.

When Middleton does tragedy, in some respects he is superior to Shakespeare, and by superior I mean the carnage and grotesqueness.  But also some of his characters seem more developed.  I have to say seemed because I haven't really done a serious study of this.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

High Society

This is the second book of Cerebus about Cerebus' run for Prime Minister of Iest and his decline in politics.  This book anthologizes issues 26-50.  This book satirized politics like no other comic I have read.  It was at times as harsh as Doonesbury and at times as funny as anything I have read.  Again Sims has brought to like an amazing array of characters, many of which have been lifted off of real personalities.  One prominent character is Lord Julius who is obviously modeled in every way from Groucho Marx.  The comedy really begins when his brother, Chico Marx shows up.  Sims has captured the Marx Brother's comedy perfectly.  I could hear them speaking off of the page, and the comedy was perfect.

The politics of the story was intricate and sometimes felt too real, and especially relevant to our hostile political arena.  Cerebus was a pawn of everyone and was unwittingly controlled by various political interests.  All he wanted was money, and true to fashion he ends his political career in disgrace and also poor.  He has no friends, and the friends he does have he doesn't want.  The only true companion he has throughout is the Regency Elf, and flighty little glowing elf only he can see.  And when they have a little fight she writes all over the town for all to see, "Cerebus urinates in the sink."  I thought that was nice piece of vandalism.  Again I cannot recommend Cerebus enough.  It is more than a humorous comic, it is full of characters.  I hope in future comics the character that talks like Rodney Dangerfield comes back.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Dam busting

It always seems that when I get to Yellowstone I can't help but read books on environmentalism.  I have an urge to learn about the nature around me, and this book is no different.  It concerns the dams on the Snake and Columbia river and their impact on nature.

I will admit that I have bought into the whole 'hydro-power is clean power' mantra, but that was without knowing the details of how dams affect and destroy a river.  Salmon in the Snake is at a low, and could face extinction due to dams blocking the way.  The recovery of salmon implemented through various agencies is ineffective, and only by breeching the dams do the fish have a chance.  Another worry is that the dams slow the rivers which means that less oxygen is in the rivers for life to thrive.  And dams keep back salt and noxious chemicals that industry pumps into our rivers.  So there are environmental considerations.  This book covers many important aspects of the adverse affects of dams on the environment, community, salmon, and Native American treaties.  There is much in here that is political, but I enjoy that too.  For about the first time I would actually advocate breeching the dams that I drive by every time that I go to Yellowstone from Oregon.  Even though Bonneville is an historic site, I think I would rather see more fish.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

#55 A Puritan Widow

This weeks installment of "That Middleton Play I Read at Work" is A Puritan Widow.

This starts with a puritan woman burying her husband and ends with her marrying one of the countless cheap knights King James made.  In between are half a dozen tricks and cheats where the widow is taken in by a man who claims to prophesy her future and a conjurer who finds he brother-in-law's gold chain.  This is all of course mildly amusing and does create moments of me laughing out loud at 3 in the morning.

What is more fascinating than the bawdy humor is the satire of Puritans and Catholics, who are conflated into one big laughable other.  This includes convincing the puritan widow her husband is burning in purgatory, which of course she should not believe based on her own religious convictions, but does anyways, to the audience's amusement.  The play continues to make fools of this woman and all who come into contact with the trickster, George Pieboard, who at one moment is betrothed to the widow's daughter.  This play is one of Middleton's comedies that is relatively easy to follow and very linear.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing

Alan Moore's run on the Swamp Thing  title is the best streak of writing I have had the pleasure to read.  His entire run lasted from v2 20-64.  A grand total of 45 issues was Moore's debut in American comics, and it was amazing.  I started from issue 1 to get the back story from Pasko, which wasn't terrible writing, but then issue 20 came along and blew Pasko out of the swamp.  Moore's impossible use of words and descriptions, the sometimes philosophic storylines that happens inside the mind, and his ability to create depth in his characters sets him apart from other writers.  This was him at his best.  During his run he also wrote the Watchmen, which is another amazing piece of literature.

Just some of the cool things that happens between 20-64.  Moore introduces John Constantine to the world, whose appearance is modeled off of Sting.  Moore re-envisions the origin of the Swamp Thing into a plant elemental rather than a disfigured Alec Holland.  Swamp Thing fights and defeats Batman and all of Gotham City.  He has a vampire story that is imaginative and changed how I looked at vampires.  Such as a community of vampires that gets flooded so they live underwater, which makes total sense.  And whenever someone ventures into the water they attack like sharks.  Moore's writing concerns itself with such topics as loneliness, pride, ego, environmentalism, power, revenge, justice, nature, family, and so on.  This is, as polled, one of the greatest writer runs in comic history, and deservedly so.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

#53 Another city trick

Last night I finished my second Middleton play this week, this one being of superior quality to Michaelmas Term.  A Trick to Catch the Old One has whores, devils, cheats, lies, and laughter.  What else can be expected from a Jacobean city comedy?

The main plot is that Witgood has his courtesan pretend to be a rich widow, and that in order for him to marry her he must come back into his lands that his uncle Lucre somehow cheated him of.  Along the way the enemy of Lucre, Hoard, comes in and steals the "rich widow" from Witgood.  This is ok because Witgood had no intention of marrying his courtesan, he really loves Hoard's niece.  SO everyone believes this widow rich and desperately want to marry her, and it is finally Hoard that has the honor, and to see his surprise when he finds out if rather comical.  Though the courtesan, Jane, has a great speech at the end, which shows her as more than a prop in the play.  She talks as though she had feelings and thoughts. I'm beginning to sense the realism in Middleton and how he cares for his characters.  Hoard accepts his fate, Witgood gets his property and marries the niece, and Lucre learns a lesson.  What is weird is that Witgood says he slept with Jane and then says he can't anymore because she is his aunt, with aunt having a double meaning of relative and prostitute.  What a strange way to end the play!  But funny throughout.

Michaelmas Term

Another city comedy from Middleton that involves tricks, lying, a faked death, and a hasty marriage.  This play basically revolves around an usurer named Quomodo who cheats a fellow named Easy out of all his lands.  This is especially egregious as Easy is a nice fellow wronged, and Quomodo is insensitive and callous.  So Middleton has the audience root for the right people.

So Quomodo is possessed of Easy's land and starts to have doubts as to the future of his estate after he dies, so he does what any rational person would do and fakes his death.  This is where the real comedy starts.  Quomodo's neglected wife, in order to right the wrongs done to Easy, marries him on her husband's day of burial.  Quomodo's son and inheritor goes around town insulting his father's memory and is himself cheated of his inheritance.  And Quomodo bears witness to this.  It is like It's a Wonderful Life except it isn't.  Of course everything is set right at the end of the play and hopefully Quomodo has learned a lesson in humility and just being a good person.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Failed attempt..

Being a fan of sensational history I picked up The Gunpowder Plot by Alan Haynes.  This is of course the recounting of the infamous attempt to blow up Parliament by Guy Fawkes.  As I child I had to remember the line, the characters are all perfect, and the crime is exciting.  So how can one of England's most enduring moments be made so boring?

Mr. Haynes has turned what should be a school boys favorite historical event into an unreadable catalogue of information.  There is no attempt to tell a coherent narrative or set the scene.  There is no buildup to each event leading up to the famed failure.  Instead what the reader receives is someones research notes full of more names than the Yellows Pages, which makes for a frustrating and boring read. Does the reader really have to know all of these names?  Couldn't just a few names be inserted and then you can build a story from them?  The book was packaged as popular history, but it is academic research instead.  I wish I had not chosen that book from the several I found at Powells.  It is the biggest disappointment in a book I have read in a long time.  I do not abandon a book casually, but by the time I got to page 38 I knew I was done.  I would stand there and read the rest on principle, it just wasn't worth it.  I hope you are happy Mr. Haynes for wasting my time and some of my money.  You suck!

Thursday, 10 May 2012

The Patient Man and the Honest Whore

I'm back to reading Middleton on the job again.  Last night I read The Patient Man and the Honest Whore, which is a collaboration with Thomas Dekker.  This is another one of those Jacobean plays that is really two plays in one, and both plays serve as foils for the other.  It is really a complicated symbiosis that works on a literary level, but sometimes does not as entertainment.  The two stories are diverse enough, with one having all the laughs and the other all the melodrama.

The melodrama involves a Romeo and Juliet type scenario, except no one dies and they live happily ever after.  This story would occasionally mingle with the other story, but one could theoretically produce this play and cut the other one without much missing.  This story is the main story of the two as it has the 'Honest Wore' as one of the characters and portrays her change from being a prostitute to wanting to be a redeemed woman.  The funniest moment is when Hippolito berates her and her profession for over 150 lines.  He holds nothing back and she sits there and listens to his puritanical rant.  Though probably not meant to be funny, it struck me as funny.

The second story was the funny one for me.  A shrew has the most patient man in Milan as her husband and she desperately wants to see him get angry.  So this story involves a string of characters approaching Candido the patient man and trying to rouse his anger.  There are some very funny moments here, such as one character wanting only a pennyworth of cloth, and for it to be cut from the middle of the cloth.  Or the wife not letting Candido get his court robes so he goes upstairs and cuts a hole in the bedroom rug for his head and some others for his arms and then puts a fools cap on and goes to court.  I would love to see this comedic story on stage.

#50 Cerebus

I am halfway to a 100!  I am making pretty good time right now.  And my night shift has started so books should start flying off of my shelf these next three months.

So while in Korea I began reading book 1, Cerebus.  This is an anthology that collects issues 1-25 of Cerebus the Aardvark.  This is written and illustrated by David Sims.  Though the comic is satire and meant at times for laughs, which it does very well, it also has the best characterization of any comic I have read.  Many comics come close to the level of character depth, but it just seems like every new character Sims introduces is a homerun.  The differentiation of characters is amazing.  The writing is beautiful.  The art is elegant.  The satire is both funny and insightful.  I can't say anything bad about this comic.  And book 2, High Society (26-50) Is supposed to be even better and more structured.  When comics are done well this is what you get.  I salivate when I think that there are 300 issues and that I get to enjoy 275 more!

Sunday, 6 May 2012


This is my third Chuck Palahniuk book in as many months.  I plan on reading at least one more before I begin school and then I have to get serious.  This also counts as part of my plan to read 7 Oregonian books this year.  I am at three, all by the same guy.

I am beginning to understand the style of Palahniuk, and it seems he will change the narrative style of each of his books.  Pygmy was first person broken english, and Rant anecdotal from the perspective of people that associated with the eponymous character.  But the themes of perversion, anti-authoritarian, and just plain weird shit are all present.

The protagonist is Rant Casey, and at the writing of this novel he is already dead, and all of his former friends talk about him and the huge rabies epidemic that he started.  Because of course Rant enjoys sticking his arm down strange holes to see what bites.  He uses black widow bites as his viagra, and coyote bites for rabies so that he can go around infecting everyone so that they can be free.  I don't want to bother explaining that last part.  And at some part the book starts to use time traveling, which caught me by surprise.


Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Red Son

Superman is the iconic American hero.  Like many Americans he can trace his ancestry to a different land (Krypton), he works hard, and believes in the American Dream.  Of all super heroes no one, not even Captain America, embody the American ideal.  Which is why Red Son was such a clever idea, and it is such a simple idea.  What if Kal'el had landed in Soviet Russia instead?  This is the perfect way to have a foil for the American Superman, a Russian Superman.  Both care for all beings, but both also buy into their respective countries belief systems.

Like both, Batman is the usual antagonist as well as Lex Luthor.  Luthor from jealousy and ego, and Batman from simple fascism.  Both try and destroy what Superman does and is.  Both achieve a modicum of success. I only wish this book was longer and could more fully explore the side characters like Luthor and Batman and Wonder Woman, but it was a fascinating idea that at times seemed distracted from its main thesis.  All in all a nice little treasure of a book.