Review of Two Plays by Marivaux

Since the two plays I recently finished were in the same collection, I will review them both in the same post.

Note: While the name of the characters are the same in the last three plays I’ve read, the characters play different roles in each of the plays. So, the beginning of one play does not spoil the ending of another play.

      1. La double inconstance (Double Inconstancy)

La double inconstance suivi de Arlequin poli par l'amourWhat was it about?

A prince and his servants try to break up the relationship between Silvia and Arlequin. The prince wants to marry Silvia, but she is just too devoted to Arlequin. Unfortunately, bribery does not work because neither of the two cares for courtly life. It’s all flattery and hypocrisy. Still, the prince tries his best to deceive the lovers. Double Inconstancy is a slapstick comedy about love and fidelity.

What did I think of it?

While the comedy is less complex than in A Game of Love and Chance, it’s more immediate. Arlequin carries a baton, which he uses to strike at the prince’s servants. This must be the first slapstick comedy I have ever read, so I was initially horrified by Arlequin’s actions. We are conditioned to find abuse in comedy off-putting, especially in domestic comedies. That’s understandable, and probably good. But I quickly overcame my horror, and began to appreciate Arlequin’s witticisms. While I preferred A Game of Love and ChanceDouble Inconstancy was still quite clever.

    1. Arlequin poli par l’amour (Harlequin Polished by Love)

What was it about?

A fairy kidnaps Arlequin while he’s sleeping the woods. But he seems completely oblivious to his kidnapping. The fairy tries to force him to love her, but Arlequin is only concerned about food. The wizard Merlin is already engaged to be married to the fairy, but the fairy does not care about her own reputation. She will get Arlequin to love her by hook or by crook. Harlequin Polished by Love is one of the magical slapstick comedies in Marivaux’s Commedia dell’arte – inspired repertoire.

What did I think of it?

In comparison to the two previous plays I read, Harlequin Polished by Love is the least complex, but it is highly entertaining for a one-act play. I would love to see a performance of this play. Fairies, goblins, and a magic ring make this a very engrossing comedy. I’m sure the stage design would be more elaborate. Arlequin is also the most ridiculous in this play. This may be my favorite Marivaux play so far.

Bloomsbury has published a collection of Marivaux’s plays in English: http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/marivaux-plays-9780413185600/

Review of Le jeu de l’amour et du hasard (A Game of Love and Chance)

Résultat de recherche d'images pour "le jeu de l'amour et du hasard"What was it about?

Sylvia is betrothed to a man whom she fears may be a hypocrite like other men. She She knows women who are married to men who pretend to be virtuous in public but are abusive at home. With her father Monsieur Orgon’s approval, Sylvia disguises herself as her servant Lisette to put her suitor Doronte to the test. Lisette disguises herself as her mistress. But what Sylvia and Lisette don’t know is that Doronte has had the same idea. He too has decided to disguise himself as his servant. Doronte’s valet Arlequin now has the difficult task of passing as his master. Only Monsieur Orgon and Sylvia’s brother Mario know the truth. Each party in the drama does not know that the other is pretending to be someone else. Le jeu de l’amour et du hasard by Marivaux (1688-1763) is a comedy that explores the role of social class in love.

What did I think of it?

I first heard about this play through the French film L’Esquive. The teenagers in the film were performing Marivaux’s play in school. Their own personal struggles mirrored that of the characters in the play. I’m interested in social class, so I was immediately excited to read Le jeu de l’amour et du hasard.

While I enjoyed the play, it was quite challenging to read. Whenever Sylvia was speaking I had to tell myself that she was disguised as Lisette. Lisette disguised as Sylvia might be speaking to Arlequin disguised as Lisette, but the play merely said that Lisette was speaking to Arlequin. I had to fill in the rest in my mind. It was even more challenging when there were three characters in a scene. I found a performance of the play on YouTube. The performance is much easier to follow than the book.

Still, I do not regret reading the play. It is brilliantly constructed. It is not only an exploration of social class but also a commentary on performance in general. The audience of the play knows that it is watching a performance, but do we realize that we are acting in our everyday lives? Sylvia and Doronte insist that people wear masks in public to hide their true selves. Everyone knows subconsciously that the whole world is a stage. By disguising themselves as their servants, Sylvia and Doronte try to profit from the system. Ironically, their disguises only reinforce what they want to knock down. Sylvia disguises herself to see Doronte as he truly is, but Doronte isn’t who he truly is.

Le jeu de l’amour et du hasard is the play you return to time and time again because of its brilliant construction and universal themes. I look forward to reading more Marivaux soon. I own two other of his plays: Double inconstance and Arlequin poli par l’amour. There are English versions of A Game of Love and Chance available.

Favorite Quote

Lisette : Venons au fait ; m’aimes-tu ?
Arlequin : Pardi ! oui. En changeant de nom, tu n’as pas changé de visage, et tu sais bien que nous nous sommes promis fidélité en dépit de toutes les fautes d’orthographe.

[My Translation]:

Lisette: Let’s get to the fact; do you love me?
Arlequin: For heaven’s sake! Yes. In changing your name, you have not changed your face, and you know well that we promised fidelity to one another despite all spelling mistakes.

Top Five Things That Will Make Me Instantly NOT Want To Read A Book

The title of this post is slightly misleading because I don’t want to mention all the things that “instantly” turn me off to a book. I am keeping the title because that’s the theme for today’s Top Ten Tuesday. If you follow my blog it should be obvious that I’m not into erotica or zombie fiction. This blog is called Exploring Classics for a reason. I am not “absolutely” turned off by the following things, but I need a good reason to read the book if it contains any of them. I may, for example, read a 14th century in-your-face allegory because it has historical significance. I will read nearly anything if it has historical significance or if it’s old enough. Who wouldn’t want to read zombie fiction from the 9th century?

Without further ado, here’s my list:

1) Pure Romance

I am OK with some romance in a novel, but I don’t like “romance” novels. I tend to avoid even well-written romances like Pride and Prejudice. Romances don’t do anything for me. I must be a block of wood 😉

2) Poor Writing

I am definitely not a great writer, but I am a language student. I have difficulty overlooking bad writing. I wish I could read a popular work without criticizing its writing style or plot structure. Unfortunately, I can no longer read books without analyzing the hell out of them.

3) Plot-Driven Books

Plots don’t do much for me. I read for theme and character. Consequently, I prefer books that most readers find torturous. Yes, I know I come across as pretentious, but that’s not my intention.

4) In-Your-Face Allegory

Allegory should be subtle. I enjoy exploring fiction. I want to be surprised and delighted when I discover a hidden allegory. Fiction should invite the reader to engage critically with the work. I can’t engage critically with obvious allegory.

5) Books By Celebrities

Movie stars and musicians tend to be poor writers, or they hire ghost writers. They clearly write books to make money. It’s all just materialism.  Blech! I’m glad they became rich and famous, but I don’t want to be rich and famous. I just don’t care about the lives of most celebrities. I don’t look up to them or care about their teachings. Cults of personality disgust me. Rich and famous people pretend that they are in solidarity with the poor so that they can remain rich and famous. It’s all just posturing. They pretend that the wealthy necessarily work harder than the poor. (Can you tell that this aspect of American society makes me angry? I’d better stop here.)

Review of Black Moses (Man Booker International)

What was it about?

On the Man Booker International longlist this year is Black Moses by the Congolese-French author Alain Mabanckou. Black Moses is about a Congolese orphan growing up during the socialist revolution. His orphanage goes from being an institution run by religious to an arm of the Marxist-Leninist regime. One day, Tokumisa Nzambe po Mose yamoyindo abotami namboka ya Bakoko (also known as Little Pepper) runs away from the orphanage with two twins. The Director of the institution is corrupt and abusive; the boys want a better life. Unfortunately, Little Pepper’s best friend Bonaventure decides to remain in the orphanage, and the mayor of Pointe-Noire François Makélé vows to destroy Little Pepper’s new friends – the gang members and prostitutes in the city. Maman Fiat 500 is one of these prostitutes. Although she is the madam of a brothel, she also cares for our abandoned orphan. Throughout the novel, Little Pepper tries to find his place in a hostile society.

What did I think of it?

This is not the first time a work by Alain Mabanckou has been considered for the Man Booker International prize. The Lights of Pointe-Noire was a 2015 finalist. Today, the shortlist will be announced. When it does, I will update you on the status of Black Moses.

I personally was not very impressed by the book. Nothing really stuck with me. It was by no means a bad book, but the characters felt one-dimensional. I definitely preferred the last third of the book in which we learn about Little Pepper’s psychological state. In general, the author did an excellent job painting the social atmosphere of revolutionary Congo, but I didn’t feel an attachment to any of the characters. Little Pepper’s baptismal name Tokumisa Nzambe po Mose yamoyindo abotami namboka ya Bakoko means “Let us thank God, the black Moses is born on the lands of the ancestors” in Lingala, so I assumed that the protagonist would play a role in liberating his people, but the protagonist never gets involved in the revolution. If his name was supposed to be ironic, I missed the irony. I never understood the significance of his name.

Despite being less than impressed by its execution, Black Moses is definitely an important novel. It explores a revolution that many of us in the West know next to nothing about. I won’t be surprised if it is selected for the shortlist. Black Moses is translated from the French by Helen Stevenson. Its original title is Petit Piment.

Favorite Quote

“I talked to him about the adverbials I’d picked up in the street, but which weren’t the ones I was looking for.”

 

UpdateBlack Moses didn’t make the shortlist.

Thoughts on Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic

Image result for letters from a stoic senecaPenguin Classics has produced a collection of the selected letters of the Roman statesman and Stoic philosopher Seneca. I was first introduced to Seneca in an introductory Latin course last year. My textbook included a highly dumbed-down version of a passage from Letter XII (known as De Senectute or On Old Age). In the letter, Seneca compares himself to his now dilapidated villa. His servant tells him that his house  is in need of repairs, but Seneca remembers when his villa was first built. How could he be so old? He can no longer recognize his childhood friend. The passage from Letter XII inspired me to read Seneca’s other letters.

Letters from a Stoic includes meditations on the body, death, liberal arts education, and slavery. A tutor to Nero, Seneca was a celebrated but controversial philosopher. In 65 C.E., Nero accused him of treason. Seneca was compelled to commit suicide. Seneca’s letters bear witness to the philosopher’s turbulent life. In more than one letter, he admits to having contemplated suicide. Obsession with suicide seems also to have been quite commonplace in Stoicism. The Stoics viewed the body as a prison of the soul. Consequently, the death of the body was the ultimate liberation. Seneca does not think his students should sorrow over death. Fate determines everything. The wise Stoic is indifferent to fame, riches, suffering, and even torture. Still, the Stoic is allowed to enjoy life:

And this is what we mean when we say the wise man is self-content; he is so in the sense that he is able to do without friends, not that he desires to do without them (Letter IX).

Not all of Seneca’s letters, however, deal with such unpleasant subjects. While he never pushes for the abolition of slavery, he condemns the mistreatment of slaves. Slaves are human too, so they should be allowed to eat with their masters. In general, people should make friends for self-less reasons to avoid becoming dependent on others and because there is freedom in living virtuously.

Seneca encourages his students to celebrate Truth wherever it may be found and to forge their own paths in life. In multiple letters, He positively cites his opponent Epicurus. The thought is always more important than the thinker. Seneca disapproves of cults of personality.

Ultimately, life is a play. No matter how long a person lives, he/she will eventually die. Viewed from eternity, all life is short, so live well:

Someone, though will say, ‘But I want to live because of all the worthy activities I’m engaged in. I’m performing life’s duties conscientiously and energetically and I’m reluctant to leave them undone.’ Come now, surly you know that dying is also one of life’s duties? You’re leaving no duty undone, for there’s no fixed number of duties laid down which you’re supposed to complete. Every life without exception is a short one. Looked at in relation to the universe even the lives of Nestor and Sattia were short. In Sattia, who ordered that her epitaph should record that she had lived to the age of ninety-nine, you have an example of someone actually boasting of a prolonged old age – had it so happened that she had lasted the hundredth year everybody, surely, would have found her quite insufferable! As it is with a play, so it is with life – what matters is not how long the acting lasts, but how good it is. It is not important at what point you stop. Stop wherever you will – only make sure you round it off with a good ending (Letter LXXVII).

This last quote reminds me of the following passage from Erasmus’ Praise of Folly: 

Now what else is the whole life of mortals, but a sort of comedy in which the various actors, disguised by various costumes and masks, walk on and play each ones part until the manager walks them off the stage?

Indeed, Erasmus and other Renaissance humanists were highly inspired by Seneca’s teachings.

Friday Reads

First, I would like to wish a happy Holy Week and Passover to anyone who is celebrating.

Now, on to the books.

I finished Seneca’s Letters to a Stoic last week. A review is forthcoming.

Because of my 2017 bookish resolution to read more contemporary works and more books on contemporary events, I purchased The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches From Syria by the war journalist Janine Di Giovanni.

Image result for the morning they came for us

I’ve only read the first chapter, but I hope to read it in a couple of sittings because I prefer to read disturbing books quickly.

I’m also 30% into Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou, which is on the 2017 Man Booker International longlist. It is about a young Congolese orphan during the Marxist-Leninist Revolution in the 1970s.

Image result for black moses alain

The shortlist will be coming out soon, so we’ll see if the book makes it to the next stage.

Let’s Talk: Book Buying, Book Tastes, and Academia

I don’t think I buy too many books, but I do feel that I have too many books in my apartment.

When I began blogging a few years ago, I rarely bought books. I preferred borrowing from public and research libraries. Unsurprisingly, book blogs and booktube inspired me to buy more books. To limit my buying habits, I purchased a Kindle. Since I prefer reading Classics, I thought buying a Kindle would save me a lot of money. It did. However, I soon discovered Half Price Books (the second-hand bookstore in my region where all books are half off the original price), and my purchasing increased exponentially. I realized that I prefer to own physical books. I really don’t care what condition they are in, but I want to have my own personal library of books that I have read and enjoyed.

My TBR is larger than I would like. Although I want to keep a personal library, I don’t want to have too many unread books. I worry that owning too many unread books means that I am just a pretentious reader, keeping books that I have never read to feign my erudition. However, I do read a lot. I prefer to read works that are rich in philosophy and intertextuality. I actually enjoy reading the kinds of books that make one sound like a snob.

I blame this on Academia. It’s really hard to avoid reading obscure, difficult books while in a humanities graduate program. Academia teaches us to have very niche interests and to set ourselves apart from the general reading public. I am currently writing a term paper on the influence of materialistic determinism on Diderot’s Le Fils Naturel. All of our paper topics are as complicated and niche as this one. So inevitably (pun intended), the books I read are not the kinds of books the general public reads.

This only heightens the anxiety I have over my TBR. I feel a greater pressure to read the books that I’ve purchased because if I don’t, I come across as pretentious. I have a lot of difficulty determining which books I should review on this blog and which books I should read without reviewing. Will anyone care that I read this study on Diderot? Maybe I should review Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic, but how many viewers care enough about Biblical scholarship to read the Art of Biblical Narrative (a fantastic book by the way)?

I have not found a perfect solution to my dilemma, but I have decided to do something to minimize my discomfort. I have decided to limit my book buying and read more of the books on my TBR even if they are inappropriate for this blog. Today, I am giving away a stack of “read” books to the local public library. I don’t want to keep books I know I won’t revisit even if I enjoyed reading them the first time. Finally, I have decided to review less and make more frequent “reading update” posts.

What have you done to address your TBR problems (if you have any)?