Tag Archives: history

MEASURE 4 MEASURE

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Sometimes computer actions become applicable to my life… “force quit! … FORCE QUIT!” I state at my laptop computer while an article on my website browser decides not to allow me to shut… IT… off.

 

My behavior is probably tied to a control issue on some small scale – probably linked to aspects of my world that I feel like I can’t shut off – informing my behavior. Be like subway train cars that have no air conditioning in July; be like sleepy eyelids closing when all I want to do is stay up and work – or watch YouTube interviews; be like my miniscule budget when there are so many good shows right now waiting to be watched on Broadway and even beyond the Big Apple.

 

Well, so be it. I love having that “Force Quit…” option though. It hides there waiting to be clicked behind the bitten apple icon on the top left of my 13” screen. I guess that’s how we might illustrate freedom on some scale nowadays. So many options – one happens to be “Force Quit…” thanks to some computer engineer answering necessity somewhere in the universe.

force quit!

Perhaps on some scale that’s the seed of Isabella’s issues in Measure For Measure. Control. A non-virtual, perhaps emotional, ‘Force Quit’ of IT – whatever it happened to be to Isabella. Control over… her own body and free will to choose whether to use her body as a trade to save her brother’s life – or whether to allow herself an ability to remain ‘chaste’. In the sense of this Shakespeare play, a definition of chastity extends to Isabella’s ability to maintain her preparation to become ‘married to God’ as a nun. This would require her to keep all hands off her body and refrain from expressions and receptions of sexual desire – including those of a judge named Angelo (Thomas Jay Ryan) who offers pardon of her brother’s life up in return.

 

Well… now… what a dilemma for a woman like Shakespeare’s Isabella (Cara Ricketts) – or really any person living in that time or ours. To come to the awareness that what is right in her mind, heart and body are in connection to a higher power and faith that she strongly connects to; and that this internal connection is weighed outside of her body very differently by various people – even people she loves and respects deeply. A favorite monologue of mine happens to be an Isabella monologue that I learned in school – it gets right at the crux of the plot issue when Isabella is forced to choose between her chastity or giving it up in order to save her brother’s life (good ol’Bill with those high stakes). Isabella speaks through the problem out loud and alone by reflecting on Angelo’s proposition (good ol’Bill with ability to create irony – I was on the sidelines urging her to be feministic about it all at the end of Act II scene 4…):

 

Thought 1:

 

To whom should I complain? Did I tell this,

Who would believe me? O, perilous mouths,

That bear in them one and the self-same tongue,

Either of condemnation or approof;

Bidding the law make court’sy to their will;

Hooking both right and wrong to the appetite,

to follow as it draws!

 

Whenever I hear those words I have a strong inclination towards ‘ouch!’ right in my heart center. It would definitely make the character Isabella want to shut off her other energy centers (head & hips). The poetic words of the play speak to me and make Carrie Robinson want to kick, push and curse on Isabella’s behalf. I remember in my classroom setting at school watching my friends/ classmates start to cry when I spoke those words for Isabella. And as an audience member on Wednesday night in the professional theatre setting, I watched Ricketts tap all of those same inclinations into her still body and decide to reason through the injustice she has discovered before moving to…

 

Thought 2:

 

… I’ll to my brother:

Though he hath fall’n by prompture of the blood,

Yet hath he in him such a mind of honour,

That, had he twenty heads to tender down

On twenty bloody blocks, he’ld yield them up,

Before his sister should her body stoop

To such abhorred pollution.

 

I heard Isabella consider the effect of her decisions on her brother’s behalf – and wonder what he would have done for her. What if he had his free will and fair use of his body and mind, and was not fall’n by prompture of the blood? She believes that he would have fought for her or used his body to prevent a sister from having to give hers up. And so her dilemma widens and deepens in her love and belief attached to her brother’s ideas around ‘honour’.

 

If they had a shiny coin – would Isabella be heads or tails? If she chose ‘heads’ and began to represent the coin’s minted face as landed up towards the sky – would she let her twirling tail on the other side of her coin, having fallen down, dictate the future? So Isabella reasons further by daring to spin into the dark abyss of her dilemma toward a solution:

 

Thought 3:

 

Then, Isabel, live chaste and brother, die:

More than our brother is our chastity.

I’ll tell him yet of Angelo’s request,

And fit his mind to death, for his soul’s rest.

 

So it’s hard enough to be a judge and decide whether to let a person who has been convicted of a crime face a sentence of death or to go free (I would imagine from my measly time as a mock Chief Justice in law school). But this play begs the question of how it would feel across the chessboard if the judge turned a responsibility granted by Shakespeare’s god-fearing Italian government into a trade for his own use; effectively hooking his power and responsibility granted by law to pull a female body closer to his own plate for sexual purposes. Of course, he attempts to keep his arching line invisible as it contravenes the very laws he’s meant to keepsake. The play then begins to tick around the Duke (Jonathan Cake) discovering his role in preventing injustice within a realm and system that requires him, due to birth status, to rule and oversee the governance of.

 

Jonathan Cake delivers a fine and compelling illustration of the Duke’s character arc in discovering and being compelled by Isabella’s experience to use his knowledge, intelligence, power and privilege towards allowing a woman to have control over her own body. What a concept to be written into a play when a society, like Shakespeare’s, still prescribed that women were not considered people; let alone people capable of making decisions on their own bodies (be virgin or not!) without a male kin’s stamp of approval. At this point in the world’s history women weren’t even deemed capable of having the right to ask for control over their own bodies!

 

I watched Cake/Duke pick apart the problem with rebellion, with language, with observance and reflection, with dialogue, with a Friar’s disguise, with tears and laughter, with love and with reasoned control and I fell a little in love with the Duke from the audience. He took a variety of action on stage that compelled me to see the whole problem and to want to resolve it – just as he found himself wanting to resolve it. Having worked the Isabella monologue in school, I’d never put myself in the Duke’s position before. Isn’t that funny – what a bit of gender neutrality occurs nowadays as a female watching the play – many women are now in a position to relate to the Duke as a person in control over people, governance and even homes; as well as to Isabella as a woman with threats to the control of her body.

 

It’s easier said than done nowadays even with progressions to women’s rights – the system Isabella found herself in indicates the root of some systemic ways of thinking about women’s rights that we still struggle with today across the globe. It occurred to me that Shakespeare’s text only compels my emotions nowadays because it is still relevant. So the emotion can be translated into a metaphoric “Force Quit…” button on my laptop – but on some scale, depending on where a person lives in this world, the dilemmas and threats in this play still ring true. Isabella matters and her brother Claudio matters (Leland Fowler)  – people facing problems that be like Isabella and Claudio’s matter – life isn’t as simple as flipping a coin to let heads and tails dictate an outcome. Just as the Duke discovers this – I was able to reflect on this in the audience – and I thought – well maybe that was the intention of the playwright then:

 

For, though his line of life went soon about,

The life yet of his lines shall never out. – Hugh Holland on William Shakespeare.

 

Measure for Measure.

 

Its very rhythm, within a title granted by Shakespeare, teeter-totters to our ears and forces us to place and balance similar consonants with similar vowels. The carrying out of the play forces us to place and balance right from wrong in our consciences and our understanding of humanity. It is both black and white; both cruel and kind; both male and female; both true and false; both high and low; and it matters. What a unique and balanced title from the Bard collection:

 

Measure for Measure.

 

Consonant for Vowel.

 

Ding for Dong.

 

Tick for Tock.

 

Teeter for Totter.

 

virgin statue

Enthroned Virgin (by Goro di Gregorio (active ca. 1300-1334) – statue on display at The Cloisters, New York City.

Last, but not least, if I could time-travel… I’d sit in on Meryl Streep’s Isabella in 1976… if only that were possible!

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“WHAT WILL WE DO WITH THE KING’S HEART?”

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“What will we do with the King’s Heart?”

The possibility-packed question becomes the responsibility of Thomas Cromwell (Ben Miles), a lawyer and advisor to King Henry VIII (Nathaniel Parker) in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Part I: Wolf Hall and Part II: Bring Up The Bodies directed by Jeremy Herrin and playing in repertory at New York’s Winter Garden Theatre.

I began in a box for Part I and then scored some dream-like seats (second row) in the orchestra for Part II. Initially what struck me was the great casting of the plays by Helena Palmer CDG. The roles that each character had to play in the kingdom became clear throughout the play due to that casting. I was never distracted from the story in this respect and there’s not an actor in the ensemble that I didn’t love for that reason!

There was a prominent advisor, Cromwell, the hand maneuvering the pieces on the chessboard influencing every direct decision the King makes and controlling the actions of any person who affects the King. There was a lot of conflict (you might say drama) with potential male-heir bearer queen wives (King VIII goes through several unsuccessfully). There is a removed fatherhood role the King takes in his own daughter’s lives (legitimate and illegitimate). There are soldiers, servants, maids, messengers and others. As the plays progressed I started to see how much power Cromwell wielded by being next-to the prominence of the King and leading him through marriages and a search for a woman who could bear a royal son.

I mainly find stories about royalty compelling because there are interesting and dynamic power wielding struggles and strategies being employed by the characters. I can’t say I find this one particularly romantic, in the female perspective, that’s for sure! There are no real heroines written into it…. even so, I liked observing Cromwell playing the love. It is surprising because although he begins in low status in life, and his job is a dark one making decisions to place harm upon others in order to protect the King… at times I was able to see his humanity and this made him a star. I started to see why his presence is necessary in nearly every scene. In order to tell the story of King Henry VIII the man who largely influenced the writing of that story is required – Cromwell – a man with an acute ability to pay attention to detail.

One image of Cromwell ‘playing the love’ that stays with me is when his youngest son Gregory (Daniel Fraser) waltzes onstage in a soldier’s uniform ready to go to battle with the King. Cromwell stands just behind him delicately touching the metal armor as if it was just a costume on a baby – but instead of pulling him out of harm’s way – he tries to compel the King to keep his son safe instead. It’s actually heartbreaking to watch; particularly because the well-known story begins with the death of Cromwell’s female family members.

Oh the costumes! Christopher Oram‘s costume design is another main reason to watch a period piece like Wolf Hall. The stage is minimal – a large mass of grey grounding that occasionally has fire roaring up through it (real flames – my jaw actually dropped in Act I like a child!) It is, therefore, the costumes and the imaginations and voices of the players that fill in the blanks of the story. The difference between a queen’s layers and robes and the more simple dress of the numerous maids following her is notable. The contrast of the simple design of Cromwell’s, often darker, clothing and the King’s elaborate velvet speaks to status as well.

It is the stripping of title and status in the lives of the women that spoke to me the most (being a woman myself). As unlikeable as Queen Anne (Lydia Leonard) is in her thirst for power and status… when she’s being taken down and her expectation of assistance with her daily tasks and her habitual action (use of her maids) is taken away from her I watched her realize that she had no choice but to crumble in silence and stillness. It is difficult to watch someone lose what they love most – with Cromwell the possibility of losing his son could leave him with no true loving relationships in life – only the cold reality of the pawns he uses around him. With Queen Anne the loss of her status is difficult to watch because it is only in attachment to the King that a woman seems to be able to protect her and her family’s interests in King Henry VIII’s world – whether the woman be innocent or savvy.

There is resolution of the question of the King’s heart by the end of the play… but I’ll remain silent on this end.

All the characters in this production are based on real people pulled up out of history and the actors breathed life into them. It was truly amazing to watch and educational too!

Next mission – check out another acting HERO of mine, Mark Rylance, in the television adaptation of Wolf Hall!

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JOSEPH BYRNE

Writer, Lawyer, Farmer

 

Wheat Fields:

https://www.ebookit.com/books/0000000553/Wheat-Fields.html

White Snow Blackout:

https://www.ebookit.com/books/0000000465/White-Snow-Blackout.html

Of Great Character: 

https://www.ebookit.com/books/0000000450/Of-Great-Character.html

 

1. What inspired your latest novel, Wheat Fields?

I wrote WHEAT FIELDS in order to tell what I thought was a compelling tale on human nature. The story is drawn from the hardships arising out of the last great depression. Life was filled with values gleaned from hardship and poverty.

Yet within this sometimes stark existence there developed a security in their own known world. “We may not have much but it is ours,” describes the ethic. Change, even change with hope for a better future, was viewed with suspicion. Thus, the introduction of mobile combine harvesters were seen as disruptive to the hard working life of the farm. Therein lies the fodder for compelling storytelling.

The book is really about the steady stream of opportunities that we have to connect with God, even in the hard times of our lives. Much as with the wheat farmers, the question arises as to whether we even recognize those opportunities to connect with God, or whether we are too occupied with temporal concerns to even notice them. But the real puzzle then is that God is a temporal concern living in our natural lives. Our preconditioning that God is supernatural may add difficulty to our reception to notice that god is there with us in the natural world.

 

2. How did it feel to be selected for the E.J. Lajeunesse Award being presented by the Essex County Historical Society?

I will receive the Lajeunesse award for significant contribution to history in October 2011. I am very grateful to win this award, and I am most appreciative of it. I am also surprised, because there are so many great contributors to history in the Essex Windsor region that I never considered myself to be a candidate for such an award.

Writing these books for me is a work of love. It goes to show though that if perform works of love, you never know the directions those works will lead you in.

 

Check out an Interview with Kim Hutchinson, from Our Windsor, about the award:

http://www.ourwindsor.ca/2011/07/local-author-to-receive-award-for-history/

 

3. The novel deals with the effect of the purchasing of a new mobile harvest combine for a family farm during the Great Depression – how does farming equipment create social change in your novel?

Farm equipment, specifically the mobile combine harvester creates great social change in the novel. Before combines and tractors, family farms were constituted of large families, with eight or ten kids being commonplace. The kids along with the parents spent long days toiling on the farms. The work was so prevalent that the farm was actually the main place where lives were lived. The family worked there, socialized there, and played there. There was seldom disconnect from work.

The wheat harvest was no exception. It was a labour filled affair, wherein the wheat straw had to be cut and hauled to a threshing machine where the wheat was separated from the straw. Both were then again hauled away.

The combine stopped all of the haulage and much of the hand labour. The combine rolled through the standing wheat as it cut the straw, and separated the grain from it, in one operation. This meant ultimately that there were more kids on the farm than were needed there. Many therefore found jobs off the farms, causing great social changes. Fast growing cities, and reduced numbers of farmers are examples.

 

4. While the characters in your novel experience this social change, their experiences also present the question of how human beings find connection to a natural goodness, or higher power, and recognize its influence within our day-to-day lives – why did you feel it was important to write about this?   

It is important to write about “how human beings find connection to a natural, or higher power – and recognize its influence within our day-to-day lives,” because life boils down to contests between good and evil. Each of us has that basic choice to make.

There are many complications in life and it can be difficult to maintain our focus, even once we have made a choice. We need the power of God with us. That power of God is available to us in our natural world. A simple example of it is when people connect the good in them with the good in others around them toward a positive purpose. This quickly becomes a culture of good, or God, with enormous opportunity to achieve those positive purposes.

 

5. What are your hopes for this novel in the future? 

There is great possibility for this book to be told as a movie. It already has the attention of some filmmakers.

I also plan to engage a speaking tour, to meet and engage with the many good people in this country.

I hope to continue writing books on the theme of human interaction with Divine as a natural phenomenon. The actual subject matter will be varied. My next book is entitled OUR INSPIRATION JIM MAHON. It is about a hockey phenom who met with death at the age of nineteen. Yet his accomplishments as a truly good and caring person inspire still, even now, forty years after his death.

 

You may also access the books of Joseph Byrne at the following websites:

Amazon.com

Borders.com

bn.com

ebookstore.sony.com

ebooks.google.com

diesel-ebooks.com

iTunes

 

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