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text 2020-03-25 01:37
Reading progress update: I've read 221 out of 311 pages.
Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations - Mary Beard

Is it really the case, for example, that Greek tragedy has a unique power to ‘say the unsayable’, as the contributors repeatedly suggest? When Hall writes of Bobby Kennedy’s speech that ‘only Aeschylus would do’, why does she think that a carefully chosen quote from Shakespeare, say, would have done Kennedy’s job any less well? It would have been useful, in fact, to see some discussion of how the fate of the Bard (who has his own honourable record as a vehicle for political dissent all over the world) differs from that of Greek tragedy. It would even have been useful to get a glimpse of some opposition to the current theatrical enthusiasm for all things Hellenic. What of the argument, for example, that ancient tragedy is more the problem than the solution, and that part of the reason why Western culture deals so ineffectively with the horrors of war, or the inequalities of gender, is that it cannot think through these issues outside the frame established in Athens more than two millennia ago? And what of the argument, rather briefly skated over by Lorna Hardwick in her essay on post-colonialism, that performances of the Bacchae in Cameroon or Antigone in South Africa – far from being politically empowering interventions – in fact represent the ultimate victory of the colonial power. Native culture may throw out its political overlords, but it is still left performing their damned plays.

This is from the article "Only Aeschylus Will Do", which, as I am approaching the end of the book, is proving an excellent bridge to my upcoming reading project about the Classical world.


It also poses interesting questions about cultural imperialism, and how insidious it is. Beard poses the question of whether a quote by Shakespeare could not have had the same effect. But to what extent is using Shakespeare not just another example of the same cultural imperialism?


It's a rhetorical question more than anything, but the mention made me think.

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text 2020-03-22 12:01
Reading progress update: I've read 129 out of 311 pages.
Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations - Mary Beard

I'm really enjoying this even if it is not at all what I expected. Essentially, this book is a collection of articles and book reviews that Beard wrote, which address some of the personalities or aspects of the classical world, but mostly focus on the difficulty posed to historians, archaeologists, biographers etc. in interpreting and explaining what people and life was really like in the classical world.


Still, I love the way that Beard dissects some of our modern images of Ancient Greece and Rome, and traces some of the trends and themes that seem to be recurring attitudes.

"As Tacitus, and other ancient writers recognised, historians are by definition excluded from the decision-making that takes place behind the closed doors of an autocracy.

   Women close to the man in power may, of course, capitalise on that proximity to promote their own interests. At the same time, they also provide the analyst with a handy – and untestable – explanation of why the man acts as he does. Just as the modern press has found Nancy Reagan or Cherie Blair convenient explanatory tools, when all else fails, in accounting for their husbands’ policy decisions, so ancient historians could always fall back on Livia or other imperial women when it came to making sense of the vagaries of the emperor’s actions. There is no way of telling if they were right. Charges of poisoning are a particularly loaded example of just this problem. Women – from Livia through Lucretia Borgia to Harriet Vane – have always been victims of accusations of this type (a typically sly female crime, and a neat perversion of the woman’s role as cook and housekeeper). But who could tell whether a poisoned mushroom was really that, or just an innocently unrecognised toadstool? And should we always assume that sudden deaths were brought about by those who ultimately benefited from them? Such assumptions produce tidy history, but they may not be correct."

I'm particularly entertained at the moment by Beard taking apart I, Claudius, and pointing out the extent of the creative licence that was taken with the book and, even more so, the BBC series. 

It just comes back to this: TV series and historical fiction are great for getting people interested in history etc., but they must not be mistaken for fact.


I'm really rather enjoying these articles. 

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url 2020-03-15 12:49
Next up in the Will's World Project - The Ides of March
The Complete Works (Oxford Shakespeare) - William Shakespeare,John Jowett,Gary Taylor
Julius Caesar and Me: Exploring Shakespeare's African Play (Theatre Makers) - Paterson Joseph

So, the creators of Good Tickle Brain (click header for the link to their comic) decided to combine current events with the Ides of March theme. I'll stick with Shakespeare. 


As per usual, I'll read the play first...while also listening to the Arkangel Shakespeare production, then look to a couple of performances to see different takes on the play. 


I've got another Donmar Warehouse production lined up for this, as well as Greg Doran's production for the RSC. I may also look into Paterson Joseph's book about playing Brutus in Doran's production. 


Anyway, I hope you are all having a lovely Sunday.



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review 2020-03-08 00:28
The Amber Fury
The Amber Fury - Natalie Haynes

We’re all responsible for our actions, and that includes me. In retrospect, I did everything wrong, almost from the moment I arrived in Edinburgh. I was weak, thoughtless and self-centred. I believed I was helping them, or at least I persuaded myself that I was. But the undeniable truth is that if I had made even the slightest effort to look outwards at these children, instead of inwards, I could have changed everything that happened. No-one was destined to die at this point.

Wow. Now, this book was not perfect and there are some aspects that made no sense, such as why an inexperienced teacher would be allowed to teach drama to teenagers with a history of violence without being given either their case files/histories or any training whatsoever on how to deal with certain behaviours or ensure security, is clearly beyond me. Or that the class never actually read any texts in class, which was really weird.


HOWEVER, this book made up for this in many other aspects. 

The plot was fresh to me. I could not predict how this was going to go. The characters were fully fleshed out, and the characters' inner conflicts were really well portrayed. 


What I loved best, tho, was that this story was not a re-telling of a Greek classic as the books blurb may have suggested. Instead, Haynes used the plot of Alex, a theatre director, teaching juvenile delinquents about Greek drama as a way to ask whether certain themes and issues addressed in Greek drama are still relevant today and how they would be assessed today. 

I thought this book was, despite its light tone of voice, really quite complex and really though-provoking, and all the while Haynes built up a plot that would climax in something that we, as the reader, know is going to happen, but we don't know what this is and when it will occur.

The Amber Fury was smart and thrilling and I loved it. I certainly also want to read Haynes' other books.

Even if you have no control over your life, you should live like you have a choice.




Previous reading updates:

Reading progress update: I've read 176 out of 298 pages.

Reading progress update: I've read 148 out of 298 pages.

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text 2020-03-07 21:02
Reading progress update: I've read 176 out of 298 pages.
The Amber Fury - Natalie Haynes

‘I’m so sorry. Have you spoken to him? Is he OK?’

Jono shrugged.

‘He texted. Says it’s not as bad as last time.’

I nodded, not wanting to give away the fact that I didn’t know he’d been in an institution already.

‘Well, I think we should probably decide what we’re going to read next, shouldn’t we? Then when Ricky comes back, we can tell him about it, and he’ll catch up easily.’

Though Annika’s eyebrows shot up above her glasses and I could see she was considering telling me what a pointless delusion this was, she said nothing.

‘Is there a play any of you would particularly like to do next?’

Last time, I’d let Carly choose, so it was someone else’s turn.

‘What’s your favourite?’ Mel asked.

I thought for a moment. ‘I like the Oresteia,’ I told her. ‘It’s about families – parents and children and how they cope with one another. And it’s about revenge and retribution.’


Erm, really? Did Alex think this through? We're talking about a group of 15-year-olds with a history of violence, and much of the Oresteia seems to me to spend time in various characters' head JUSTIFYING VIOLENCE!!!


I can see this go horribly wrong. I really can. 


But we shall see. I really have no idea where this is going and I am loving it.

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