Friday, July 13, 2012

Roberto Calasso, Tim Parks, Judi Dench, Shakespeare

The discussion of Greek myth and the Plato/Aristotle divide drew me back into Roberto Calasso's The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony.  It is a delight it is to read this again.

We owe a debt, not just to the author, but to Tim Parks who translated Calasso from the Italian.  I paid little attention to Parks until I picked up a review copy of his memoir, Teach Us To Sit Still, a while back.  An amazing account of alternative medicine, mind over matter.  All the more profound because Tim Parks, the complete skeptic, is constantly gagging on the facts of his own experience.

The year is more than half over now.  It is not really midsummer, but summer came early this year and so did the high heat.  Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream actually seems set on the eve of the feast of John the Baptist, at the start of our calendar summer, in those normally lush and green-canopied days.
For several years, we ran in the Midsummer Night's Run, sponsored by Baptist Hospital in Lexington, a very lovely race beginning at 8:30 in the evening.  They always had Shakespeare on the shirts they gave away, with different colors every year.  I see that they are still running the race this year on August 11th.  If you are going to be in the Lexington area then, you can sign up for it now at this link. 

Harold Bloom, in his massive work on Shakespeare, says that he has never seen any good performances A Midsummer Night's Dream but one--the 1968 movie adaptation with an elite cast that included Paul Rogers as Bottom, Judi Dench as Titania, Helen Mirren as Hermia, Diana Rigg as Helena, and David Warner as Lysander.

Bloom points out that the play has four paradigms.  The mythic world of Theseus and Hippolyta, the four young lovers who are universal to every time and every place, Puck and the folklore fairy world, and the world of Bottom and his fellow English rustics.

Bottom's dream, his consciousness, has no bottom.  He is the natural man, like Huck Finn, self-confidently Aristotelian with no inkling of inferiority despite being at the bottom of the social and political hierarchy.  He is a weaver--a dream weaver, if you will, "whose awakened senses fuse in a synesthetic unity."
Judi Dench as Titania

"Bottom's parody of 1 Corinthians 2:9 (Geneva Bible) is audacious, and allows Shakespeare to anticipate William Blake's Romantic vision, with its repudiation of the Pauline split between flesh and spirit."              

All the world's a stage.  There is a play within the play, and the intellect explains the play to itself.  At the end, as Bloom points out, there is a unity between the selves, a synthesis of narrative between myth, fantasy, the individual, and the collective and in which man is at the same time author, director, player, and audience.

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