The OF Blog: Life is but a dream?

Monday, May 30, 2005

Life is but a dream?

To be, or not to be, - that is the question -
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? - To die, - to sleep, -
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and teh thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, - 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, - to sleep; -
To sleep! perchance to dream: - ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause...

Hamlet, Act III, Scene I

Those who know me well will tell you that I am a huge lover of plays. For me, plays constitute the boundary between the Written and Spoken worlds. So much can happen in a play that cannot happen elsewhere. Unlike movies or television shows where the viewer is only a passive, non-essential part of the performance, the play often requires active audience participation. It is our applause, our interest, our own emotional baggage that the playwrights seek to attract, and in some cases, to deceive.

The actors are truly in action, moving about, morphing our perceptions with just a few well-placed words and a timely twinge of emotion that might flicker across a performer's face before it is replaced with another, possibly mysterious sign of feeling. A play is staged, but yet it conveys deep truths about ourselves when it is performed well. As Shakespeare had Hamlet's character say later in Act III, "The play's the thing."

What power in such lines as that or in Hamlet's soliloquy! I have found that good playwrights can create a world full of Feeling and Meaning just by allowing us audience members to do exactly that, to listen and to react to what is being said, and even more importantly, to how it is being said. One of the main weaknesses that I believe speculative fiction has as a whole is that this genre has failed to capitalize upon the power and beauty that is inherent in the play form.

In many ways, plays provide people with the avenues for emotional/personal escape that lovers of speculative fiction claim for that genre of literature. While watching Hamlet's dilemnia, or perhaps pondering the often-sad realities found in Thorton Wilder's Our Town, or even considering the notion that Life itself may be just only (and so much is this only!) a dream, as Segismundo does in Calderón de la Barca's La vida es sueño (Life is (a) Dream), the playwatcher can be caught up in such a way that is virtually impossible for any written work to perform unaided. For words to have true power, I believe they must resonate within the hearts of the recipiants, which means they must be spoken as well as read.

But yet plays are not as important as they used to be in everyday life. From television, movies, and video usurping some of the exciting visual moments, to radio and the above extracting the auditory elements, plays have been pushed into the background of posh theatre groups or rinky-dink high school performances. Where are the Georg Taboris daring to rewrite histories such as Hitler's youth into dreamscapes of the human psyche? Where are the Henrik Ibsens, reminding us of the often sad truths to be found within the doll's house? Where have they all gone? Is there any future left in the play format?

I believe that there might be. For as I tried to say above (and fear that I might have failed at my task), plays just offer something more meaningful for those people who "get it." There are more direct connections, as the actors and actresses may appear at the end and bow for our applause. We give immediate approval or disapproval to these performances. Seeing sometimes our hopes and fears presented in a play can just be so rewarding, that it is a wonder that we don't see more plays being written today, in this world of dislocation and alienation. Perhaps that is a field that someone with a keen interest in the speculative can explore to greater extent. Because I suspect that the play form can be paired quite well with the speculative. But maybe I'm just only dreaming. It wouldn't be the first time.


Alison Croggon said...

Well, I'm another theatre enthusiast (I run a review blog discussing theatre in Melbourne Theatre Notes). I'm even married to a playwright and have written the odd piece for performance myself.

There's life in the old dog yet, and lots of it. From this distance, a faux naturalism seems to dominate theatre aesthetic in the States, and that's really boring. But that's by no means the case everywhere, especially not in Europe, where it's much more embedded in the wider culture.

Alison Croggon said...

...and a PS: didn't GRR Martin base his books in part on Shakespeare's history plays??

Lsrry said...

Hey Alison!

I agree with what you say about the differences between American and European theatre styles, based on my (sadly) limited experience of the two. While I do like stage performances of works such as Steel Magnolias, I just can't help but think that American style isn't as playful (pardon the pun) or as adventuresome as what I've seen or read from the contemporary European writers. Although if you can explain the role that the chicken had in Tabori's Mein Kampf, please tell me - I've been puzzling over that one since 1997!

As for Martin, I think he's basing it more on the War of the Roses, but that certainly doesn't mean that there aren't elements of Henry VI or Richard III in his storytelling - I'll have to consider that whenever I get around to re-reading it!

Oh, and hopefully next week, I'll have a review ready of your book, school demands permitting.

Thanks for replying here!

Alison Croggon said...

Don't know Tabori's Mein Kampf, so I'm no help; but I'm sure the chicken is significant.

Hmm. I'd be interested to know if the Henry VI plays are an influence on GRR Martin's books, but it wouldn't be surprising if the Wars of the Roses are behind them. Shakespeare's take must be one of the best fictional adaptations of that story. And there is a dramatic dynamic to the novels.

No hurry on the review, though of course I am most interested in what you think!

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