Monday, 26 December 2016

Goethe - Germany's Renaissance Man


One of the places that I ended up visiting in Frankfurt was the Goethe House, and while a part of me wants to simply write about the house (particularly since the website is actually pretty detailed), I will either leave that for my travel blog, or another post in this blog at another time. However, what I will say is that the house itself is quite large, comprising of four floors, all of them packed full of Goethe related material, and lots and lots of artwork (though he wasn't much of painter, rather the paintings were from his father's collection). Next door, well not so much next door because it is actually a part of the museum, is another gallery of paintings by Goethe's contemporaries. Actually, the staff were pretty keen on me going in and having a look, which is what I eventually did.

Anyway, here are some pictures from inside the house:

The house is actually his birthplace, and where he spent the formative years of his life, that is until he was shipped of to University in Leipzig where is father insisted that he study law. Oh, I probably should make reference to when Goethe was around, namely from 1739 to 1842, which meant that he lived through the incredibly turbulent times of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. Actually, he even had the privilege of meeting the French Emperor, which is not all that surprising because one of the things that he happened to do well was play the political games in Weimer (well, he was appointed as a commissioner and sat on the legislature, but to me they are still political games).

Sure, his father wanted him to be a lawyer, and he did end up becoming very successful in his legal and political career, but in the end, like a lot of romantics, Goethe really wanted to be an artist (mostly a writer), and also had a passion for the sciences and study. In sticking with this romantic idea he even secretly married an Italian woman, Christine Vulpius. Also, being your typical artist, when he completed his masterpiece Faust, he had it sealed up until he died, possibly because he didn't want to see it flop.

The Man Behind the Myth

Well, I should be honest and say that I really know little, if anything, about the guy. Sure I have heard his name bandied about here and there, and there is also this institute, the Goethe Institute, which seems to be primarily focused on teaching German to people who want to learn how to speak German. Well, no offense to those German speakers out there, but German isn't probably one of the best languages to learn namely because it is restricted to a small part of Europe, and most people who live there generally know how to speak, or at least understand, English. Sure, as a language it certainly isn't all that hard, but as for usefulness - not much (when I was over in Europe I probably counted only one German speaker who couldn't understand a word of English, but that had more to do with her being Asian than a German who skipped all of her English classes).

Okay, the Goethe Institute is somewhat more than a glorified school for teaching German, and has a lot to do with German Culture (and even runs a film festival). To me it seems to be a German version of Alliance Francais, which is a French version of the Goethe Institute (yes, I know, circular argument but since I have had little to do either either of the institutes, I can't say all that much beyond comparing them to each other, though my Dad did learn French there and does highly recommend it, though they are pretty expensive). Anyway, I seem to have gotten quite a bit off track here because I was supposed to be talking about Goethe, though there probably isn't all that much that I haven't already said that isn't mentioned in either Wikipedia, or Online Literature. Oh, the Wikipedia entry is a lot more detailed, but then again that probably shouldn't be all that surprising considering who we are talking about.

The interesting thing is that Goethe reminds me of another famous German author - Franz Kafka (though I believe he could actually be Czech). The reason I say that was because Goethe didn't study law because of some huge passion to become a rich and powerful lawyer (though he did eventually do that) but because his father wanted him to be successful. Rather, Goethe wanted to pursue the arts, and even went as far as studying poetry instead. This didn't particularly impress his father, and the two became ever more distance, though Goethe did drop out of university and return to Frankfurt for a spell. During this time he had actually written quite a lot of stuff, though most of it was eventually thrown out (namely because authors do tend to be perfectionists). He did eventually complete his studies, this time in Strasbourg. Not being able to sufficiently support himself as an author, he also went and completed his legal studies (though then became famous with his book the Sorrows of Young Werther).

Mind you, as it turns out, Goethe didn't really have clean hands. After becoming a famous novelist he was invited to Weimer to take up a political position for the Duke. During this time he was head of the war commission, which included selling prisoners and vagabonds as mercenaries, including to support the British in the American War of Independence. Also, after the French revolution broke out, he participated on the side of the Germans in the first coalition against France (which is not surprising considering his patron happened to be the Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimer, and he couldn't be seen as supporting the overthrow of the aristocracy). However, they lost at the battle of Vilmy, and were forced to retreat, which resulted in the establishment of the Republic of Mainz. This Republic didn't last all that long because the Prussians then counter-attacked, and pretty quickly put an end to this upstart rebellion. The only reason I mention this though is because Goethe ended up painting a water colour of this event.

A German Titan

While trying to find out some more about this guy I stumbled across a rather interesting article from the New Yorker. It is interesting how they compare Goethe to Shakespeare, and in fact suggest that he is Germany's poet (in the same was that the French consider Moliere their Shakespeare). The problem is that us English speakers really don't care for anybody who simply does not write in English, and suggesting that some other language or culture had their own Shakespeare is inconceivable. In fact us English speakers, even if we don't realise it, or even admit it, revere Shakespeare in an almost godlike manner to the point that we don't even believe that it is physically possible to produce as many classics as Shakespeare did. In fact we go as far as even suggesting that Shakespeare, or at least the Shakespeare that we know, didn't even exist and that the plays were written either by somebody else, or was a collaborative effort.

The thing is that we can't make the same suggestions about Goethe, particularly since he lived in what is effectively the modern age. In fact we know much more about Goethe than we do about Shakespeare (though we can learn a lot about him from his plays, such as believing in the divine right of kings, and disdaining the working mob on the grounds that they wouldn't know the first thing about ruling a country and are so swayed by honeyed words of a fine speaker than they could become incredibly destructive force). As for Goethe, we actually know quite a lot about him, and his writings cross from literature, to scientific, to political. We also know that, like Shakespeare, he was a royalist and a conservative, which is interesting considering the times in which he was living.

There is an anecdote (which I picked up from The New Yorker Article) that suggested that he and Beethoven were walking through a town when they encountered a royal procession. Goethe showed them proper respect while Beethoven barged through them, and did so without being arrested. What is happening here is that we are moving from the era when one's family name carried respect to where one's ability carries respect. In a way we are seeing the rise of the celebrity cult where the artists aren't clambering to get the attention of the royals, but the royals are clambering to get the attention of the artists because one's status is shown through who one associates with. 

In a way we are seeing this all the more today where politicians fall over themselves to be seen courting, and being endorsed by, major celebrities. It was suggested that if Opera liked your book, and she mentioned it on her show, then you were on your way to being a best seller. Not being American, and having never watched her show, I can't say for sure whether she endorsed presidential candidates, or to what extent that the endorsement would have on the outcome of an election, but she certainly had her cult following, and there would be people who would literally hang off her every words.

Yet rulers theoretically didn't need to have celebrities endorse them because they ruled through their own divine right - but this was changing. England had already executed one king in the 17th Century, and deposed a second when he refused to play ball, and this was starting to sweep over onto the continent. Also note how Goethe was elevated to a position of authority after publishing his first best seller, and finding himself courted by a duke, even if it was a minor duke doing the courting. Times were changing, and the playwrights and the artists were no longer there simply to amuse the nobility, they were there for the nobility to demonstrate their cultural sophistication.

A Literary Master

Here is a video I found as I was trying to find a bit more about Goethe, and in doing so looks not only at his life, but also what we can learn from him.

After watching this I realised that my understanding of Goethe's Faust is a lot different from what it actually is, but that is because the Faust that I know is the one by Christopher (Kit) Marlow. It seems that Goethe's Faust is actually a lot different (not that I have read it, and from what I gather the play lasted for something like thirteen hours - more like a mini-series than a play). In Marlowes' version Faust is basically an academic that becomes board with life because he pretty much knows everything, so he makes a deal with the devil to be given access to the mystical arts, however the catch is that he is only allowed to enjoy that for a short time before his life is demanded as payment. Thus the first part of the play has Faust enjoying his new found power, such as teasing the Pope and having a love affair with Helen, and then the final section of the play with time winding down to that day of reckoning, and living with the belief that since the deal is struck then there is no way out of it.

However Goethe's version seems to be a lot different, and instead is a morality tail on how to enjoy life - that is enjoy its pleasures but don't over indulge in them. It is a tale of learning to live in moderation - there isn't anything that is inherently bad, all that we have and all that we experience, is good, it is just that we have a habit of taking something that is good and making it really, really bad, and I can think of a lot of things that fall into that category - sex, alcohol, computers, Facebook. It sounds as if the Faust in Goethe's play was offered these things by Mephistopheles but never actually took them, being satisfied with what he already had.  Mind you, like a lot of people, the only thing I know about this play is what I have heard about it through the grapevine - I have never read it, and I certainly have never seen it performed (even if it is actually performed because the only performances I have seen was of the Marlowe play).

To finish off I wish to mention another short poem of his - Prometheus. I'm not sure why this is so famous that it garner's its own Wikipedia page, but it does. Okay, I read the English version as opposed to the German version, namely because my Germen certainly isn't that good. Anyway the poem seems to reflect the changing society and the move towards a more 'enlightened' humanity. Okay, human belief was that we were heading that way, especially at the turn of the century when there had been effectively one hundred years of peace (or so they were told). However, this is in a period before the French Revolution, but at a time after the Church had splintered apart due to the reformation. What we have is Prometheus addressing Zeus, though it is done in a way that is suggestive of the Christian god.

The idea comes about through the scientific revolution where we stopped claiming that things happen because God makes them happen, and instead things happen because there are a series of scientific laws that guide the universe. However, consider the story of Prometheus - he we have a titan who disobeys Zeus and gives humanity the secret of fire, or as I have explained elsewhere, the beginnings of technology. In the same way that technology had resulted in the Ancient Greeks being less reliant on the gods, the scientific revolution means that humanity has evolved to a level where the universe no longer operates because 'God is in control'. This is not necessarily something that I accept, namely because just because there are a series of scientific laws that dictate the way the universe runs, doesn't necessarily mean that there isn't the hand of a divine entity behind it, but that is another story for another day.

Instead I'll finish off with a link to a site where you can find a collection of Goethe's writings.
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Goethe - Germany's Renaissance Man by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Caricatures - Mocking with Art

I'm not really sure if the four paintings that I have posted in the title are strictkly caricatures, but they were on display at the Caricature museum in Frankfurt (which in German is the Museum für Komische Kunst) so I guess they should fall into the category of Caricature (because why would a caricature museum have such paintings on display if they were not caricatures). Anyway, I visited the museum the first night I was in Frankfurt and what was cool was that the concierge suggested that I come back at 8:00 pm (the museum closed at 9:00 pm) because then I would get in for half price - which is what I ended up doing, and while I was waiting I headed off to a pub that happened to be nearby (which was the plan all along, and fortunately for me daylight saving in Europe stretches out to beyond 9:00 pm).

Mind you, I do sort of wonder what the purpose of a 'comic museum' is since you can pretty much find any number of comics on the internet, or even in the local paper. Further more some of the famous comic strip artists (such as The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes, and of course The Peanuts) compiled their works into books for the consumerist public. In fact, some of them even produced other items, such as cups, plates, and even wall hangings of some of the more popular cartoons. In another way comics would probably fall into the realm of Pop-art, which while having some merit in and of itself (I have developed an appreciation for the works of Andy Warhol), in the end doesn't seem to carry the majesty of the works of the old masters. This comic that I found on the internet seems to sum up people's attitude towards art:

Yet here we have a museum dedicated to the art of the newspaper's funny pages and the work of political cartoonists the world over. Okay, maybe there happens to be places in the world were you are simply not going to get away with drafting a cartoon of a ruler or a prestigious figure, and sadly it seems that France was one of those places, considering what happened to the creators of Charlie Hebdo (which I now realise that I didn't keep an eye out for a copy of one when I was over there, though I also note that it seems to have fallen back into the realm of obscurity that it existed in prior to the attacks on their offices), and while that may be true in some of the dictatorships around the world, one would expect more freedom in a place like France.

What is a Caricature?

Well, the simple answer to that is to go to the suppository of all wisdom that is Wikipedia to find out that they have to say. The opening to their page on Caricatures simply says that it is a 'rendered image showing the features of its subject in a simplified or exaggerated way through sketching, pencil strokes or through other artistic drawings'. Personally I think that sums it up pretty well, and we don't need to go on to the famous caricaturists, the history of the caricature, or a list of caricature museums (though I should mention that they also have one in Warsaw and Mexico City, though the only reason that I visited this one was not due to a burning desire to visit a caricature museum, but rather that it looked, and sounded, interesting - and I get in at half-price). 

However, I probably should show you the caricature on Wikipedia that was voted as the most famous one, which is entitled 'The Plump Pudding is in Danger' and shows a cartoon of Napoleon and Lord Pitt carving up the world:

The cartoon was produced in 1805, which was around the time of the truce between Napoleon and England (with William Pitt being the Prime Minister of England at the time). This is obviously a criticism of the peace that was arranged, particularly since Napoleon, and the French in general, were seen as the bad guys. In a way what we are seeing in an early 19th Century conspiracy theory with the suggestion that the world is being carved up between the two great powers, with Napoleon taking Europe for France (and Napoleon had pretty much conquered a large swath of Europe at the time) and England taking the oceans. In a way it does suggest that the peace is actually a capitulation on behalf of Lord Pitt, and doesn't deal with the problem of Napoleon. Notice also how Pill is rather tall and sitting comfortably on his chair, while Napoleon is incredibly short - one of the reasons (actually the main reason) why Napoleon is believed to be short - the multitude of caricatures that were appearing in British Newspapers and Journals at the time.

As for caricatures, it does seem that the trend started to arise during the 18th century, but that had a lot to do with the rise of the middle class and their literacy, as well as the appearance of Newspapers. In fact around that time there were a huge number of newspapers, nothing like the concentrated mess that we are confronted with today (though if you wander into a newsagent then you will still notice the huge number of magazines on sale, even though most of them are owned by the handful of media companies). However, what we do have these days is the bloggosphere, where anybody (like me) can start posting things on the internet for everybody to see. Mind you, the catch is that people have to be able to find it, and that difficult in itself (and with Facebook's war against 'false' news, this might create even more problems).

So, I guess I should speculate on why people use caricatures - well, I guess it is the same reason as to why people use comedy to make important points, and is one of the reasons why Michael Moore was so successful: comedy actually gets its point across. Okay, I probably shouldn't bring Michael Moore into the equation because I'm actually not a huge fan, but the thing is that people don't want to be confronted with facts, especially uncomfortable facts, rather they want to be entertained. However, I'm not entirely sure if it is supposed to work as intended. In my mind what it is doing (and this is the main reason why I don't like the Simpsons) is that it trivialises important things. For instance, and using the Simpsons as an example, we have a small town with caricatures of quite a few stereotypes. The thing is that some of these characters are pretty shocking - Mr Burns and Reverend Lovejoy for instance. However, what the show does (and the Simpsons is a classic for caricatures) is that it makes these serious problems - such as the unadulterated greed of the billionaire class, and the hypocrisy of the religious class - non-issues. In fact, it simply turns it into a laughing matter, which means that we aren't angry about what is happening, and simply let things go on as they always have been, namely because the caricature is painting this as a normal, and rather humorous, way of life.

Politicians with Big Noses

While there is some elements of caricature in shows like The Simpsons, in reality they fall more under the definition of satire. In a way satire and caricatures are two sides of the same coin - satire tends to take the form of writing, or a story, while caricatures tend to (but not always) take the form of static art. Where the two styles meet are probably in shows like the Simpsons (and similarly with Futurama). I would probably throw Family Guy in there as well, but that seems to be much more low brow than proper satire (as exemplified in works by Jonathon Swift). However, the one thing that satire tended focus on was the actions of politicians, though interestingly it is really only in the democracies that the caricaturist was able to survive (though some where very, very subtle in their works, or they simply poked fun at those who were not in power).

In a way this is why the work of the satirist and the caricaturist were able to develop in places such as American and England - there was a freedom of expression, even if it was only implied. Sure, some authors, such as Swift, were still very subtle in their work, or poked fun a people that didn't have the influence to be able to make their life miserable (and during war the enemy has always been a suitable target, as well as the Irish). However, despite there being some semblance of a democracy (even though it could be considered fledgling), in a way Britain for much of the 18th Century was effectively a one party state ruled by Robert Walpole: he seemed to have a habit of winning elections (much in the way that the Liberal Party seems to be able to do here in Australia).

Mind you, while there was some form of parliamentary representation in England which had the effect of reigning in the powers of the king, it didn't necessarily make it a proper democratic government. Not only was the vote restricted to a very small minority (usually white males who owned a certain amount of property), the House of Commons, so called because it was made up of commoners, had to deal with the House of Lords, so called because it was made up of aristocrats appointed by the king. While these days the House of Lords pretty much acts as a rubber stamp, back then it had a lot more influence. However, despite all of these problems (and especially with the existence of 'Rotten Boroughs', which were electorates where there was basically only a single voter, who was usually the person representing the borough), England did operate fairly smoothly (that is until Lord North came along and upset the colonies to the point that they revolted).

Anyway, that was a bit of a digression, but anyway here is an image of Robert Walpole that was doing the rounds at the time.

Celebrity Caricatures

The museum (or should I call it an art gallery, though it seems that only Commonwealth countries have art galleries that don't sell art, though even that is incorrect because Singapore follows the non-British tradition is calling Art Galleries museums) had two levels, and I suspect that the displays in both of the levels were temporary (though since I am not an inhabitant of Frankfurt I cannot actually say for sure). Anyway, the ground floor had drawings mainly of celebrities, however interestingly enough they weren't caricatures in the traditional sense, which makes me wonder why it was that they happened to be in a caricature museum. My suspicion is because they happen to be famous, and also happen to be modern. Okay, not all of them are strictly modern, but they at least existed in my life time, and have been strutting their stuff while I have been alive. However, even though the subjects are famous, they aren't created in the way that a proper caricature is created - that is that their features are exaggerated.

Sean and Leo for example.

And Bruce

Which leads me to the point that the thing that stands out with regards to Bruce is that the older he becomes, the shorter his hair becomes, until we reach a point where it has been pretty much all shaved off.

Anyway, there was also a caricature of the one and only lead singer of Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osborne, doing what Ozzy Osbourne does best:

Since I have posted a picture of Ozzy on this post I simply have to include one of their songs:

I should mention that even though I have included a video, and a picture, of Ozzy on this post I am not that huge a fan namely because when Ozzy and Black Sabbath decided to get back together and do a world tour I decided not to go to the concert. However, I'm one of those people that tends to develop an interest in a band, or a singer, long after I have any chance of seeing them live (or as with the case of David Bowie, within two weeks of him dying).

Still, even though they did happen to have a collection of portraits of celebrities on the ground floor, I am inclined to say that they aren't actually caricatures in the traditional sense - they are portraits. In my mind caricatures tend to be mocking, and more importantly mocking people that happen to have some influence over the direction of society. Sure, celebrities happen to be in the spotlight, but unlike politicians, they have a different role in society - the politicians are the ones that set the scene and make the important decisions, the celebrities simply entertain us and distract us from what is really going on.

Oh, and while this may not be a picture of a Celebrity, it is one that did capture my attention, entitled "Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, on Ice". While I could speculate on its meaning (and in a way am tempted to do so), I think I'll just leave it as is.

And of course, we have these guys who, unlike most celebrities and rock stars, seem to have worked out how to live the rock and roll lifestyle, and live to a ripe old age to be able to tell their grandchildren all about it.

Mocking the Rulers

One of the things that I have mentioned is how artists, and commentators, use caricatures to comment on, and criticise, the political rulers. While such actions may work in a democracy, this isn't always the case everywhere, and even in some countries that are democracies, making comments can get you into a lot of trouble. It is why the caricature is such a good way (as long as you can get away with it) of poking fun at political leaders. The problem with a caricature museum in Germany is that it can require knowing, and understanding, the intricacies of the German political system to understand the caricature.

Take this for instance:

Okay, I'm sure we all know what that symbol represents, but who that guy is (I suspect that he is the CEO of the company), and why he is pushing it up a steep incline, I have no idea. Possibly it has something to the with Mercedes being in some sort of trouble, but because I am not German, and don't know anything about what Mercedes was going through (and also since I didn't take a photo of the title of the caricature either) what this cartoon is poking fun at is beyond me.

This one sort of makes a little more sense namely because I recognise the Cologne Cathedral, and the two clown hats of the SPD and the CDU (the two major political parties in Germany). I guess it is suggesting that there is an interconnection between the church and state, and in a way the parties are simply two arms of the same organisation - but this isn't a conspiratorial, world conquering, connection, but a rather comical one where all parties - the church and the state as represented by the two political parties, are simply little more than jokes. However, it is interesting that despite the fact that Europe is a pretty secular entity in and of itself that the perception of the church having such influence in German politics is surprising. However why he is holding a beer is a little confusing, but maybe it simply refers to the comic, indulgent ruling class rising out of the putrid of its own making.

The other problem that I encountered was a problem of language. Sure, I know a bit of German, and according to Duo Lingo I hav a 25% fluency (though that is according to Duo Lingo, and while I might get answers right there, it is completely different when I have to read the language, or even speak it, without assistance, though my ability to read is much better than my ability to speak), but that doesn't necessarily mean that I can actually understand the intricacies of the language, particularly when it comes to political commentary and cartoons. You'll actually find the same problem when attempting to communicate with non-English speakers, especially when you are using slang.

Anyway, here is an example of one of these cartoons, which basically makes no sense unless you can understand the caption (which in all honesty I don't):

Anyway, before I finish off, here are some more caricatures that were on display at the museum including this one of Santa, which no doubt paints a much more sinister picture of the jolly old man from the North Pole who travels the world delivering presents to everybody, though in this multicultural and globalised world, we do have a tendency to forget that there are an awful lot of children out there who don't believe in Santa and aren't from a Christian background, which goes to show that no matter how much we try to secularise Christmas, it is still a Christian holiday and Santa is still a representative of Christianity, even though people like to claim that Santa is nothing more than an anagram of Satan who exists only to distract us from the birth of Christ - maybe that is why Santa looks so sinister in this picture because his ultimate purpose is to overrule the true meaning of Christian.

And here is another one that I have no idea as to the meaning of because, well, I'm not German, I just speak the language.

Though this one may be a bit more familiar, or at least the actors in it:

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me

Monday, 5 December 2016

The Avengers Assemble

I'm sure many of us have heard of superheroes (though many of the younger generation probably weren't exposed to the cartoons that I was as a kid), and a number of us have probably even seen one or more of the movies in which these superheroes appear. As for me, while I remember watching the Batman and Superman cartoons as a youngster I was never really a big fan of the superhero genre, though I would go and see the odd movie when it was released in the cinema (or borrow one from the video store if there was nothing else available), however, for some reason, they never really appealed to me. I have bought the occasional comic just to see what they were like, but after reading them once they end up being given away namely because, without fail, I tend to find them boring.

However, the thing with the superhero comics is that they tend to be serialised, and the few that I have read are always referring us back to previous comics to explain something one of the characters said in the current comic (though it will only mention to comic and not expand upon what the character is talking about). In fact, the comics will also cross over between series, and even bring a group of superheroes together to form what would best be called a 'superhero club' (though I'm not entirely sure if club is probably the best word to use). Within the Marvel universe you have the X-men, which is comprised of mutants, and then there are the Avengers, which are comprised of superheroes (the difference between a mutant and a superhero is that a mutant is born with their powers, where as a superhero gains them later on in life, though it should be noted that not all of the members of the Avengers have superpowers per se - in fact, at least in the first phase, only two of them have super powers - the Hulk and Captain America - Thor doesn't count as he is an alien).

Anyway, we are now into Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and one of the problems that I have encountered with the franchise is that there are quite a lot of references to events in previous movies that it is starting to make some of the newer movies a little difficult to follow. In fact, when I watched Captain America: Civil War, there were a bunch of characters that I was struggling to remember where they came from. Even in the first Avengers Movie there were elements in that film that relied upon assumed knowledge. As such I decided that I would sit down and rewatch the films in order, and in doing so write a post on the two phases that have been completed (though I will finish the second phase at Avengers: Age of Ultron, as opposed to Antman, have some have suggested).

In writing this the TV series Agents of Shield and Daredevil will not be included as I do not believe they are critical to the story line behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), as I suspect (I haven't watched them) they are simply there for people who need their weekly dose of superhero action (which I don't). Mind you, as a side note, I would consider that the superhero genre is actually a subset of the broader science-fiction genre, though it is a lot more speculative than some of the science fiction stories around. Still, even though I am a big fan of science fiction, once again, that didn't really extend to the superhero stories.

Mind you, these films seem to be turning into a television series in and of themselves, with each of the films being its own episode. As I have already mentioned, there are things that occur in the earlier films that are starting to become important in the later films, and characters are introduced that make me scratch my head. For instance, in the Avengers the plot involved an artifact known as the Tesseract, however, despite having seen the Captain America movie, I had completely forgotten what the Tesseract was about (and also the subtle hints that there were connections with Asgard). Also, I had completely missed the fact that Black Widow (aka Natasha Romanov - though in the movies she doesn't go by the name Black Widow) was actually introduced in Iron Man 2. Oh, and then there are the post credit scenes which, if you miss them you end up missing a hint for the lead up to the next film (though the post credit scene in Captain America is basically an advertisement for The Avengers).

Anyway, what I will do if look at each of the films individually, and also, hopefully, create a reference for people to refer to so that they don't have to watch the entire series again everytime a new movie in the franchise appears.

Iron Man

I simply cannot begin writing about Iron Man without starting off with this:


Okay, while Iron Man may not technically be the first in the MCU (the Hulk was, but that appears to have been ignored) it is the theoretical start of the series. Basically we have Tony Stark, a billionaire playboy who has inherited his father's fortune (and his father, Howard Stark, does play an important role in this phase, as will become apparent later), however is your typical spoilt brat who spends his life going from party to party. However, he also happens to be a bit of a mechanic. In fact he built his first electronic circuit at the age of twelve, so he is pretty cluey when it comes to stuff like this.

Anyway, Stark Industries is known for being a weapons manufacturer, and has multiple contracts with the American Government. At this time the United States is at war with insurgents in both Afghanistan and Iraq, however it is Afghanistan that is the major focus of this film. Actually, the film begins with Tony Stark traveling through the Afghani desert in a military jeep, after having demonstrated a weapon that can theoretically end a war in one shot. However, while they are returning to base the convoy is attacked by insurgents and Tony Stark is captured.

This begins a chain of events that inevitably change him. First of all, as he is taken into the camp, he discovers that the insurgents (actually a criminal organisation known as the Ten Rings) have a bunch of weapons that were built by Stark Industries, however they want him to build his latest weapon, and hold him prisoner until he does. Instead Stark, being the mechanic that he is, builds his first Iron Man suit, escapes, and returns to the United States where he announces in a press conference that Stark Industries is getting out of the weapons business.

This angers the CEO of Stark Industries, Obadiah Stone, to no end, and he then begins to work to remove Tony Stark from control of the company. While Obadiah is going about his plans, Tony is down in his workshop perfecting the Iron Man suit that he first built in Afghanistan. However, he also discovers that Stone, who is the villain of the piece, doesn't want to give up Stark Industries' lucrative weapons business, especially since he is actually selling weapons to both sides in the war.


Iron Man basically sets the scene for the Marvel Universe, though it could also be suggested that the creators were testing the waters to see how well it would be received. No doubt the fact that there are now two movies a year being released under the Marvel banner attributes to the success of this first movie. Here we are not just being introduced to Iron Man, but also to some of the other important characters, and groups, that will make up the series, including S.H.I.E.L.D. (which is now known as the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division), though the name isn't revealed until the end of the film.

The movie also sets up Tony Stark's character, namely that he is a flamboyant billionaire who is also a genius when it comes to building things, however he is also pretty egotistical, and more interested in parties than in the actual serious business of running his company. However this comes to a head when he discovers that his company has been double dealing, and that building and selling weapons may not be the most ethical way of making money. As such we begin to see a change in Stark's character, however despite the fact that he may own a controlling interest in the company, he doesn't actually control the company - which sets up the final showdown between him and Obadiah Stane (who also builds an exo-suit, and is also known as the Iron Monger).

There are a couple of key themes in this movie, the first being how Stark comes to realise that weapons aren't toys - while it is all well and good to have them in the hands of his allies, when they fall into the hands to the wrong people then bad things are going to happen. Up until he is captured he was pretty blaise about the whole industry, happy to let his company make millions selling weapons to the US Army and not worrying about any repercussions. However, once he discovered that not only does his enemies have access to his weapons, but that they are being sold to them, he realises that he is actually in the wrong business and decides to bring an end to it.

However, this causes a lot of problems, namely because the conservative forces, in the form of Obadiah Stone, don't want to stop - double dealing is an incredibly lucrative business, and as Stark Enterprises is a private corporation, then loyalties aren't owed to any particular state, but to the profit motive. The problem with war is that it is a very lucrative business, especially to the weapons manufacturers, and for their profits to continue to increase, the wars need to continue to be fought - and what better way to keep to wars going than to make sure that both sides in a conflict are fully armed. This is what Tony Stark, upon having his moment of realisation, decides he wants to put a stop to, however it turns out that it isn't going to be all that easy to do.

Incredible Hulk

I hadn't actually seen this film until recently (namely when I decided to watch the Marvel movies through again). I had heard that it is not actually a sequel to the 2003 movie, however the film does begin after Bruce Banner escapes and flees to South America. However, where the first film finishes with Banner hidden in the jungle, this film begins with him living in the slums of an unnamed city in Brazil working a day job at a bottling factory. Further, he has gone for quite a long time without turning into the Hulk, and is learning to control his emotions so that he might remain in control. 


As I have mentioned, the film begins with him in Brazil working in a factory, and it seems as if his previous life has been left behind - that is until a drop of his blood accidentally lands in a drink bottle that makes its way to the United States. While Banner manages to clean up most of the blood that is spilled, he misses a bit, and it ends up in the hands of none other than Stan Lee (playing the cameo that he plays in pretty much each of the films), who keels over and dies. This information pretty quickly arrives on the desk of General Thunderbolt Ross who hires a British special forces operative, Emil Blonsky, to travel to Brazil to track Banner down, which they do so quite successfully.

Unfortunately for those involved, Banner, while attempting to flee from the military, runs into some factory workers who simply want to pick a fight with him - huge mistake - Banner turns into the Hulk and not only pummels them to the ground, but also deals with the military forces who are after him, and then disappears into the jungle, where he wakes up somewhere in Central America. Realising that he simply cannot run from his past, he makes the decision to return to the United States and attempt to find the one person who can provide him with a cure.

Of course Blonksy is not too happy that he wasn't told the whole story about Banner, however Ross manages to calm him down not only by coming clean, but also offering him some treatments that would give him the agility, and strength, of somebody half his age. Anyway, to cut a long story short, Banner grabs his old girlfriend (who happens to be Ross's daughter) has a huge fight at a university, and then makes his way to New York City for the final showdown. However Blonsky isn't happy with the small operation that he has undergone, and wants to go further, and eventually becomes the Abomination, which results in him, and the Hulk, pretty much smashing up Harlem.


I guess the key theme in this movie is how the military's desire to have an edge can, in the end, be its own worst enemy. Here we have the military attempting to hunt down the Hulk, not to find a cure for Banner, or to help him, but to use him as a weapon against their enemies. Mind you, the one thing that Ross never seems to realise is that one simply cannot control the Hulk - despite the fact that Bruce Banner is a pretty quiet, and non-violent guy, the Hulk is incredibly dangerous - and Banner knows this, which is why he is working so hard to keep him under control.

The same goes with Emil Blonksy. At first he says to General Ross that he would love to have the knowledge that he has now in a body that was half his age, and Ross provides him with an opportunity to do just that. Unfortunately for Ross this backfires because Blonksy, every time he is defeated, simply wants more and more power. This hasn't anything to do with him being smart, it is him seeking to win battles through brute force, and he realises that until he can defeat the Hulk through brute force alone, he is not going to be satisfied. However, this results in him becoming the Abomination, a beast that Ross pretty much loses control of - and turns Blonsky into an animal.

It is interesting to see the two sides of the coin with regards to these super soldiers - one of them is a scientist, and a pacifist, who seeks to control and suppress the creature, where as the other is a warrior, one who is not satisfied with the limited power that he has and continues to want more and more until it eventually consumes him. While Banner at times is forced to turn into the Hulk, he does so reluctantly, and only does so to protect those he loves and the innocent population at large, where as the warrior doesn't want to control his powers, and eventually becomes an incredibly destructive force than can only be stopped by a man who wants to be rid of his abilities.

Iron Man 2

The events of Iron Man 2 occur around the same time as that of the Hulk, and begins sometime after the events of Iron Man 1. Since Stark tends to be one of those honest guys that finds it difficult to live the double life that most superheroes live, at the end of the first movie he came out and pretty much told the entire world that he was Iron Man, and is now basking in the glory of being a superhero. However there are a number of people that aren't too impressed that there is this private citizen running around in a suit of armour that they don't have any control over.


One of the things that seem to regularly pop up in the Iron Man series are some of Stark's dark secrets. In this film it involves a man that Tony's father worked with years ago, but parted ways. He is now living in Russia with his son, Ivan Vanko and is on his death bed. When Vanko learns that Tony Stark is Iron Man he sets about to create his own version of the Iron Man suit, and thus becomes Whiplash. He then travels to Monaco where he confronts Tony Stark while Stark has decided that we wants to actually be a formula one driver as opposed to sitting on the side lines.

Anyway, when it becomes apparent that Stark isn't the only person with the technology to create these suits the US government becomes ever more concerned, and calls Stark into congress to provide them with a 'please explain'. Meanwhile one of Starks competitors, Justin Hammer, brings Vlanko onto the payroll and has him develop his own version of the Iron Man suit, however Vlanko goes one step further and doesn't create an exo-skeleton, but rather develops a series of drones, which then go on display at the Stark Convention. However, as it turns out, Vlanko is not one of these people who can easily be controlled, and proceeds to set these drones to start shooting up Queens (at the same time that the Hulk is smashing up Harlem).

Meanwhile, throughout the film, we are dropped hints of something happening down south, which is a lead up to the next film in the series.


There are a couple of things that I would like to touch on here, and one of them being that while Whiplash (and Justin Hammer) is the villain of the piece, the real enemy is Tony Stark's ego. Sure, he has taken control of his company, and attempting to move it in a new direction, but a lot of people really don't seem to trust him. Not only is he running around showing off his new suit, but he is also descending into alcoholism, and also using his suit inappropriately, not just to show off at the convention, but as little more than a party trick. While he had been approach by S.H.E.I.L.D. in the first movie, he had turned the opportunity down, and this has concerned people even more - which results in his friend, Rhodes, stealing one of the suits and becoming War Machine.

The other idea, which starts to come to play in Phase Three, is the concern over private individuals having so much power. The US Government wants to take possession of the suits, and wants Tony Stark to build them for the government, however Stark no longer wants to work in the weapons industry, and resists all attempts to turn the suits over, believing that he is the only person he can trust that can use the suit appropriately. However it seems that while he trusts himself, nobody else, including his close associate Pepper Pots, particularly trusts him, which is why Nick Fury puts Natasha Romanov, aka the Black Widow, onto his staff.

The problem with private security is who they are answerable to, though one also argues that is the same problem with the government - if the government is only answerable to the people whenever an election comes about, and if that is only the elected representatives, not the bloated bureaucracy, then government controlled security isn't that trustworthy either. However, in Iron Man, what we have is this power in the hands of a single man, and a rather egotistical man at that, who also happens to be an alcoholic. This creates an even bigger problem, particularly when there are other concerns that need to be addressed (such as the events down in New Mexico).


The Marvel Universe takes a bit of a detour here and heads off-world to the realm of Asgard where we are introduced to the 'god' Thor and his brother Loki (as well as the other Asgardians). One of the reasons for this is that Thor is a key part of the Avengers, but is also provides us with a break from the typical human based superheroes that were the product of Iron Man and The Hulk. Here we have an entity from mythology who was at one stage worshiped as a god, who is now being introduced into the universe. What it is also doing not creating the mythology that exists beyond Earth, and beyond the physical universe, but setting up the ancient Norse universe as the universe in which the Marvel films exist.


Basically the film begins with a bit of a backstory where we are told that one time, in the distant past, the Frost Giants were ravaging the Earth, however they were defeated through the intervention Odin, who banished them to the realm of Jotunheim and took possession of the Casket of Ancient Winters. We then fast forward to the present where Thor has come of age, however during his coming of age ceremony frost giants manage to sneak into Asgard, but are stopped before they can get their hands on the Cask of Ancient Winters. Thor decides that we wants to go and teach the frost giants a lesson, but his forbidden by his father. Thor then goes behind his father's back and does so anyway, and as punishment is stripped of his powers and banish to Earth, along with his hammer, though is told that only somebody worthy of wielding the hammer can pick it up.

Thor must then begin to adapt to life as a mortal, but is assisted when he meets up with some scientists who are studying stellar phenomena in the desert. Meanwhile the hammer is discovered and after a bunch of yokels gather around to attempt to pick it up, without success, S.H.I.E.L.D. moves in, clears them out, and sets up a base to try to both study it and to pick it up. Thor tries to get the hammer back, only to discover that he can't even pick it up, and leaves dejected to plan his next move.

Meanwhile on Asgard Odin falls into a deep sleep after revealing to Loki that he is adopted and is in fact a Frost Giant. Loki then assumes the throne and spreads the rumour that Odin is dead. However the people of Asgard are concerned about the way that Loki rules, and Thor's companions decide to travel to Earth to warn Thor of what has happened. Not wanting to give up the throne, Loki sends a creature to Earth to destroy Thor. At the last minute, Thor decides to sacrifice himself, which makes him worthy of the hammer, then defeats the creature, returns to Asgard where he confronts Loki, and destroys the Bi-Frost, which is the gateway to the other worlds, which also results in Loki falling into the abyss.

Key Themes

What we see in this film is Thor's coming of age. He is the natural heir to the throne, however he needs to learn to act like an heir, which means that one simply cannot retaliate every time an enemy makes a move against them. This is something Odin knows, and also knows that by attacking the Frost Giants will only result in further retaliation, which will eventually lead to war - something that Odin really doesn't want. As such, the only way for Thor to learn what it means to be a leader is to have all of his privileges stripped from him (something which leaders of today should really undergo - leadership isn't a right, it is a privilege, and it is a privilege that should be treated with respect, yet many people seem to consider it a right, and it is this attitude that actually makes them bad leaders).

As I have already mentioned, this film also expands the Marvel Universe beyond the confines of the Earth, and he were see SHIELD playing a more X-files type of role as opposed simply being some generic security attachment to the CIA. Also, while he isn't mentioned in the credits, we are also introduced to another of the Avengers - Hawkeye, who makes a brief appearance when Thor storms the SHIELD base in an attempt to take back his hammer (without success). However, it should be noted that when Thor actually becomes worthy of the hammer, the hammer comes to him, as opposed to him going to the hammer.

Finally, this film sets up one of the main reasons why Thor becomes one of the avengers - his experience of humanity. By becoming a mortal Thor begins to understand what it means to be a mortal, which means it is much easier for him to be able to relate to the other avengers, and to also have a reason for wanting to help defend the Earth. Once again, this is something that many people should experience for themselves - it is easy for a politician to claim to know what it is like to be a normal person, struggling from paycheck to paycheck, but when everything has been given to them, and they pretty much live without want, it provides a barrier between knowing, and understanding. The same goes for many employers, who seem to treat their employees as little more than human resources - when one has to get by on minimum wages, wondering how the next bill is going to be paid, it provides a much greater perspective on society than simply being shut away from the struggles of the ordinary person.

Captain America - The First Avenger

Now we jump back to the height of World War II to see the creation of the character who is probably considered the leader of the Avengers (though that is using the world lightly since the suggestion is that the Avengers are a rather disparate bunch). Not only that, but this film also provides us with a bit of a backstory where not only do we discover the beginning of the super soldier program, but also get to meet Tony Stark's father, Howard Stark.


The setting is in Brooklyn New York and young Steve Rogers really wants to be able to fight in Europe, however the problem is that is repeatedly fails the physical exams, no matter how often he takes them, or where he takes them. However, while he is at one of Stark's expos in Queens with his best friend Bucky, he tries once again but this time he is pulled aside by a scientist who wants to use him in a super soldier experiment. Meanwhile, in Europe, a faction of the Nazi Party, known as Hydra, raids a monastery in Norway and steals an item known as the Tessaract. Hydra then begins to use the Tessaract to create powerful weapons with the intention of overthrowing the Nazi Party and becoming the new world power.

Meanwhile Steve is sent to boot camp where he is pretty much outclassed by every soldier with the exception of common sense (which he demonstrates by retrieving a flag not by climbing the flagpole, but by removing a pin and letting the flagpole fall to the ground). He is then selected for the experiment, and undergoes the process and emerges much stronger, and fitter, than he was before. However Hydra had managed to infiltrate the organisation, shoots the doctor, and attempts to flee with the formula, but is stopped by Steve Rogers.

With the professor dead the project is basically canned, and Steve Rogers, who is given the persona Captain America, is sent around the country to raise support for war bonds. However Rogers wants to get in on the action, but with the program canned he simply finds himself as a celebrity - that is until he lands up in Italy where he discovers that his friend Bucky has been captured by Hydra and being held prisoner. Taking matters into his own hands, he heads to the Hydra base, rescues the captured soldiers, and confronts the leader who reveals himself as Red Skull. However Red Skull then escapes to fight another day.

Rogers then forms what I believe are called the 'Fighting Furies' who travel across Europe attacking and destroying other Hydra bases. They then confront Red Skull in the last base, however Red Skull manages to escape on a plane that he intends to fly over the Atlantic and destroy New York City. Cap gets on the plane, defeats Red Skull, and then crashes the plane into the Arctic (after dropping the Tessaract into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean where it is retrieved by Howard Stark) where he is frozen, and the awakens 70 years later in the present.


As I have mentioned, this forms more of a background to the current universe, and also introduces the Tessaract, which plays an important role in The Avengers. We also learn that Stark obtained the Tessaract, which he used to develop the Arc Reactor - a powerful clean energy source that is explored in Iron Man 2. What we also learn is the beginnings of the super soldier program, a means to create a soldier that exhibits super human abilities, and while the research ended up stalling - namely because the professor was killed and nobody was able to continue his research, they did build on his research and ended up creating the Hulk and the Abomination.

We also have the idea of the enemy within the enemy. This is not a question of the enemy of my enemy is my friend, but rather that within the Nazi Party there was an organisation that operated with a lot of freedom, but was simply using the Nazi Party to further it's own goals. Once Red Skull had obtained the Tesseract he no longer needed the Nazi's to hide behind, however continued to do so so as to keep suspicion diverted away from him. However, as becomes apparent, Red Skull's operations were soon exposed, which resulted in Captain America and his band of soldiers coming after him.

The Tesseract was originally introduced in Thor, however that was in the post credits scene. Here we see a connection between the Tessaract and the Asgardians, especially since it is discovered hidden in a monastry in a carving of Ygrissal, the world tree. Mind you, the actual connection isn't revealed here, but rather a few hints are dropped as to its origins. What we do know, from Thor, and the end of this film, is that it lands up first in the hands of Howard Stark, and then finds its way to SHIELD.

The other interesting thing that I noted was that the original Captain America comics appeared in 1940, during the Golden Age of comic books, which is why the original film places him in a World War II setting. The original character had Bucky Barnes has his side kick, however this was dropped when Stan Lee took over as he doesn't particularly like the idea of superheroes with sidekicks (that is so DC Comics).

The Avengers

This is the conclusion to the first phase and not only brings all of the main characters (and some side characters) together to form the Avengers, but it also ties up a number of lose ends, and sets the stage not only for the next phase, but also for the grand finale, as the main bad guy, Thanos, is introduced (though only in passing, and if you blink, you basically miss it).


Well, it turns out that when Loki fell into the Abyss he didn't die (but then again that was always going to be expected), however he is rescued by a being known as The Other, the leader of an alien race known as the Chitauri. He is promised sovereignty of Earth if he retrieves the Tesseract. Mind you, this is Loki were are talking about, and since his appearance in Thor he has become a lot more ambitious, and doesn't see why he should accept orders from the Other, however he agrees and travels to Earth. Well, it is actually quite easy for him to get to Earth because the Tesseract opens up a gate in the SHIELD compound, and he captures Hawkeye and Dr Selvig, takes the Tesseract, and flees off into the night.

Loki then reappears in Germany, where he seeks a device that will allow him to harness the power of the Tesseract and open a gate to allow the Chitauri to come to Earth. However he is captured by the Avengers, but Thor then rocks up and a battle erupts between Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America. They then take Loki onto one of SHIELD's carriers to return to New York to retrieve the Tesseract. Loki, being Loki, turns the Avengers onto each other (which isn't particularly hard to do), and then proceeds to smash up the carrier while Hawkeye rescues Loki and flies back to New York. 

Despite the fact that they have been scattered, the Avengers manage to get back together in New York just as the gate opens and the Chitauri invade. This results in a huge battle which lasts for most of the movie, before the World Security Council decides to nuke New York City, but Iron Man grabs the missile, flies it into the wormhole, and uses it to blow up the Chitauri mothership. The film then ends with Thor taking Loki prisoner, and taking the Tesseract back to Asgard for safe keeping (because, not surprisingly, humans simply cannot be trusted with such power).


Well, the idea of an Avengers movie, where we have multiple superheroes staring together, is that the challenge is more than one of them can handle, and what better than an Alien Invasion. While Loki is probably a match for two of the Avengers, when you bring The Other, and the Chitauri, into the mix, you are basically going to need a lot more, and some luck on their side as well. However, while it is handy having all these superheroes together to deal with such problems, there are always dangers - particularly if they don't happen to get along. This, once again, lays the seeds for what what begins to happen in Phase Three (or even Phase Two).

While they aren't mentioned by name, we are also introduced to two of the infinity stones, though we only see one of them - the one in Loki's staff. The staff was actually given to him by the Other, and isn't something that he picked up in Asgard. However that isn't the case with the second infinity stone - but I will leave it at that and move on to my final point - the Arc Reactor.

I probably should have mentioned this under the heading for Iron Man 2, as this is where the concept is developed a lot more, however it is a powersource that is cheap, and clean, and came about through the use of technology derived from the Tesseract (while we aren't necessarily told this, we don't actually know what happened to the object between the time when Howard Stark discovered it and SHIELD obtained it, though it seems that Tony Stark had no idea of its existence). The Arc Reactor powers the electromagnet in Tony's chest, which works to prevent shrapnel sinking into his heart, but also provides a power source for his suit. It also is the object that Stark is using to turn his company from a weapons manufacturer to a clean energy producer - Stark Tower, which has been completed in this film, is actually powered by an Arc Reactor. What is also interesting is that we learn that Pepper Potts also helped design the tower, which suggests that Stark is losing some of his ego-centricity.

However I will wrap it up here and continue in Phase 2.

Creative Commons License
The Avengers Assemble by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me

Monday, 28 November 2016

Richard II - A King Without Friends

Well, it seems that within a period of two months I have managed to see Richard II twice, the first was a DVD that I had ordered of the Royal Shakespeare Company production starring David Tennant, and the second one being a production by the Globe Theatre. Actually, I had no idea that the Globe version was going to be showing at one of the local (or not so local as the case may be because it did take an hour and a half, by train, to get from my home to the cinema) cinemas when I watched the DVD a little while back, though as I have mentioned in my previous post (though having a look at the date that it was posted - 5th May - I'd probably be more accurate in suggesting that I watched it quite some time ago), the lack of good plays in Australia means that I am more than willing to make the trek to see another version.

Anyway, as a friend of mine, who I ran into as I was leaving the cinema, said: I won't be watching Richard II for a long time now. The problem I have though is not that I have already written a post on the play, but that I also have The Age of Kings and The Hollow Crown on DVD ready to watch. Mind you, the Hollow Crown is only the first four plays of the history cycle while the Age of Kings is all of the plays (though it is also in black and white). Unlike Hamlet I felt that I probably wouldn't be able to write anything more on this particular play, however by the time the play had finished I felt that there was enough to justify a second post (especially since I like to write a post on every play that I see).

With regards to plot I won't rehash what I have already written back in May, however I will give a brief rundown just so you don't have to jump to another post. The play begins with Richard ascending the throne as a child, but then jumps to the last few years of his reign. Two of the lords have a dispute and Richard decides to arbitrate, however the negotiations break down so they decide to resort to trial by combat. Richard once again intervenes and banishes both of them, one for life and the other for a shorter period. Once that has been settled he heads off to Ireland to fight a war, however when he comes back he discovers that Henry Bollingbrooke, one of the nobles that he exiled, has returned and taken the throne. In fact he discovers that pretty much all of the nobles have thrown their lot in with them. After a lot of misery and soul searching, he is murdered, and upon learning of this Bollingbrooke, now Henry IV, decides that he must go and purge this bloodguilt by a pilgramage to the Holy Land.

Stage and Screen

Watching another production in the cinema makes me wonder what is actually better - the stage or the screen. Okay, considering that for me to see a play at The Globe I have to purchase tickets to London, pay for a hotel, and also pay for the tickets (as well as some other incidentals), jumping on the train and going to the cinema certainly is a lot easier, and cheaper. However there is something magical, a je ne sais quoi (which is actually really bad French, however it is generally used in English to describe something that words can't actually describe), about going to the theatre and watching a production performed live. I guess it is how the Mastercard Ad goes - there are things in life that are priceless, and for everything else there is Mastercad (suggesting that while the experience of watching Les Miserables in London might be priceless, you can at least use your Mastercard to get there). In a way, it is probably quite similar to difference between listening to David Bowie on CD and seeing him live in concert (not that that is possible anymore).

However, ignoring the fact that the cinema allows a lot more people to be able to watch something, and it is a good thing that the British are now releasing their plays for the screen - which means that we don't have to travel all the way to London just to see a play, and then discover that the sessions that we wanted to go to have been sold out (if you want to see a play in London it is advisable to book in advance - well in advance - when I went over there to see Les Miserable my cousin suggested that I book in advance, and I managed to get the last ticket on sale, though I left A Midsummer Nights Dream a little too late, and even though I could still see it, it is not on the night that I had set aside to see it - oh well, more time to spend in Brighton). Oh, and not to mention that The Globe happens to be one of the most uncomfortable theatres I have ever been to so I guess I would go for a cinema seat any day.

However I've only been talking about the theatre, and the cinematic releases that have began to flow on from the theatre (though this is surprisingly a fairly recent phenomena), I haven't actually spoken about the made for cinema productions. A lot has changed since the old, low budget, BBC productions - these days Shakespeare can actually be a pretty pricey production. However, what the cinema offers that the stage doesn't is a much more realistic setting. On the stage there is still a lot of imagination required (which is another really good aspect of the stage), whereas the only restraints that you have with the cinema is the money you can spend. Mind you, when it comes to the cinema Shakespeare actually isn't a huge money spinner, which is why the productions tend to be hobbies as opposed to major cinematic releases.

Another benefit that these productions offer is that I can watch a Shakespeare in my lounge room whenever I want, though you are still limited in what is available. However, with the theatre the production will change based upon who is doing it (though the two productions of Richard II that I saw were actually quite similar).

Til I Have Told This Slander of his blood

It seems that the dispute between Thomas Mowbray and Henry Bolingbrooke is irreconcilable. Bolingbrooke claims that Mowbray squandered money that had been given to him by Richard on his soldiers, while Mowbray claims that Bolingbrooke is lying and he is only making these accusations to tarnish his name. In fact this dispute pretty much reaches the point where they literally want to rip the other's throat out. The problem is that Richard doesn't want to take sides, nor does he believe that a fight to the death is actually going to reveal who is telling the truth, which is why he intervenes.

Mind you, being kicked out of the country by Richard is pretty much suggesting to Bolingbrooke that Richard doesn't believe him. Thus it is not surprising that he eventually returns to take the throne for himself. In calling Mowbray to task he is attempting to bring corruption to the King's presence, but has instead been punished for doing so. Mind you, even though Richard only banishes Bolingbrooke for a short time does little to calm his nerves - obviously the king doesn't want to be seen playing favourites, and as such punishes both of them, though even though he is given a shorter period of exile, he is still being exiled.

Watching it does make me think of how disputes tend to evolve. In fact in many cases they evolve to a point where the original foundation of the dispute has literally been forgotten. I have had the unfortunate experience of working in a litigious environment for most of my working life, and in this environment we see how disputes arise. Mind you, the disputes that I have dealt with tend to be minor compared to some areas that I know about - such as family law - when the dispute literally sinks into the parties slinging mud at each other. However, the basis for pretty much most disputes seems to evolve around money - it is interesting how money can cause so many fractured relationships.

Then we also have disputes between countries, and in similar cases many of these disputes have begun long in the past and the origins of them are lost in the midsts of history - by now both sides passionately hate each other, but have no idea as to why they actually hate each other - they just do. Mind you, like civil disputes (which tend to involve money) international disputes, especially the ones that have been going on for centuries, tend to involve land, and they are not necessarily border disputes either, such as we have with Northern Ireland and Palestine - both countries were invaded, but, in particular Northern Ireland, people have been living there for so long that the place has literally become their home, and if they were to be forced to leave then there would be nowhere else for them to go.

When Our Sea-Wall Garden ... Is Full of Weeds

The intermission in this production occurred between scenes III and IV of act III, though I have to admit that I am not an expert on Shakespeare so I generally am unable to tell which act and scene we are in when watching a play (even a play that I am really familiar with, such as Hamlet). Anyway, when the audience returned (and me a little late as usually, namely because I didn't know how long the intermission was going to be) I was confronted with a scene where the queen is in the garden with her handmaidens and a couple of gardeners.

The pivot upon which the intermission rested was between the final fall of King Richard and the ascension of King Henry. Okay, Henry hadn't ascended the throne yet, but it was clear, at least from Richard's eyes (and that of his allies) that everything was hopeless - all of his allies had joined Henry and he is only left with a handful of supporters - which ironically includes the church. Mind you, in those days the church had an awful lot of power, however it is clear that this power was waining, particularly since Henry ignores the Archbishop's objection to him taking the throne, even with Richard abdicating.

However there was one line in this particular scene that stood out, and that is the reference to the garden being full of weeds. This is a perception only, but it shows how one's perception can differ from another's. In the eyes of the queen (even though it is the gardener that makes this comment), her world has collapsed, and the the once beautiful kingdom, and palace, in which she lived, was now racked by chaos. Mind you, that doesn't necessarily mean that the kingdom has descended into chaos - it hadn't - it is just that the queen's world has descended into chaos.

The weeds refer to the king's enemy, and the garden is no doubt his kingdom. Weeds have a nasty ability to take over a garden without you realising what has actually happened. This is the case with King Richard - while he was in the kingdom he was able to remove the weeds from the garden, but as soon as he had left, there was nobody left to remove the weeds - at least nobody he could trust. It is like a gardener who spends his days constructing a beautiful garden, but leaves the care of the garden into the hands of a couple of untrustworthy apprentices. Without proper care, a beautiful garden will be destroyed, and once the weeds have taken over it can be very difficult removing them and restoring the garden to its former glory.

Surprisingly, this was taken at Monet's House

Are You Contented to Resign the Crown?

Act IV, Scene I is the scene where the crown passes from Richard to Henry, however there is a huge reluctance in Richard to do so. In fact we see Richard torn between not wanting to let go of his authority, yet wanting to get rid of it as quick as possible because of the weight and heaviness that it bares upon his soul. In a way he has discovered the true burden of kingship, and the mistakes that he had made by not choosing sides in the initial dispute between Bollingbrooke and Mowbray. In a way Richard left for Ireland too quickly and didn't remain in the kingdom to make sure that Henry wasn't going to make a move for the throne. Basically Richard didn't make sure that his flanks were secure.

Throughout the play, at least from when he discovers that Henry has launched a successful coup, there is the constant turmoil in the kings heart - he doesn't want to let go of the crown for this is all he has known, yet the burden of the crown is so heavy that he cannot wait to get rid of it. However, a part of this reluctance is that he doesn't want to willingly give it to Henry, yet Henry doesn't necessarily want to take it from him by force. Mind you, defacto authority already rests in Henry, namely because all of the powers that be have flocked to his standard - any resistance is small and is easily crushed.

Ay, no; no, ay; for I must nothing be;
Therefore no no, for I resign to thee.
Now mark me, how I will undo myself;
I give this heavy weight from off my head
And this unwieldy sceptre from my hand,
The pride of kingly sway from out my heart;
With mine own tears I wash away my balm,
With mine own hands I give away my crown,
With mine own tongue deny my sacred state,
With mine own breath release all duty's rites:
All pomp and majesty I do forswear;
My manors, rents, revenues I forego;
My acts, decrees, and statutes I deny:
God pardon all oaths that are broke to me!
God keep all vows unbroke that swear to thee!
Make me, that nothing have, with nothing grieved,
And thou with all pleased, that hast all achieved!
Long mayst thou live in Richard's seat to sit,
And soon lie Richard in an earthly pit!
God save King Harry, unking'd Richard says,
And send him many years of sunshine days!
What more remains?
It seems that Richard has a choice between stepping down to a humble life, and to a life in prison (or even death). He ends up landing up in prison, or at least imprisoned in his castle (which was a common fate for deposed kings, or at least political enemies that the ruler really wasn't able to kill for fear of turning them into a martyr). The thing is that nobody actually wants to give up a position of authority - having a position of authority gives one status amongst their peers, and to lose that position means to lose that status. In fact being stripped of a position of authority can be an incredibly humbling experience, yet people don't like being humbled - instead they see it as a form of shame. When one is stripped of their position it can be very difficult for them to face their peers again.

Peace They Have Made With Him Indeed

Henry returns to England as soon as Richard leaves, which is clear that Richard really doesn't have a huge amount of authority, particularly since he loses his kingdom as soon as he leaves his kingdom. A strong king is able to maintain his throne even though he is absent from it - as was the case with Henry V, who went and fought wars in France, yet was able to return to his throne (though it is noteworthy that he executes all his enemies prior to leaving for France).

The thing that struck me was that nature of England at this time. It wasn't just the situation where England ended at the Channel - England has huge territories in France. Mind you, exiled kings and lords would regularly flee to France to plot their return to England, however Edward III had conquered huge swathes of territories during his wars on the continent. Mind you, the continent wasn't necessarily as secure as the home counties, meaning that an exiled lord could easily raise an army in the French territories.

However, a successful invasion of England, as is demonstrated with Henry VI, and William III, is to have the support of the nobility in the home counties. With support from the nobility a sitting king has little ability to retain his title - in fact James II was deposed without a drop of blood being spilt (though that is a little bit of an exasperation). In many ways the political nature of the kingdom at the time was quite similar to the modern party political structure of the day - a prime minister only holds authority when they have the confidence not only of their party, but a majority of parliament - as soon as they lose that confidence they lose their position.

Henry is depicted as the stronger monarch - he is always in armour, or at least he is until he ascends the throne, and when he does he still dresses in black. Richard, on the other hand, is always dressed in white. It seems as if these two colours portrays their character - black represents strength while white represents weakness. Mind you, in those days there was little place for a weak king, particularly one who could not control their subjects, especially the nobility. Without the support of the nobility, the King's hold on the throne is tenuous indeed.

However, even though Henry took the throne by force, it seems that he does not believe that he has the right to kill Richard. Sure, he is the king, yet he seems to believe that while he has taken the throne through the confidence of his nobility, he can't actually kill Richard. Sure, he may have said, as is repeated by Exton: 'Have I no friend will rid me of this living fear?', yet he seems to say this as an afterthought, and not actually meaning anybody should go through with it. As such, when Exton does perform the deed, not only is Exton banished for his crime, but the King, who didn't think what he said would have any consequences, believes that he must now cleanse himself of a crime against God - it is fine to take the throne with the confidence of the nobility, but to kill a king, even a deposed king, is a crime against heaven.

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Richard II - A King Without Friends by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me