"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Rock Crystal by Adalbert Stifter, Part 1

This is not a well-known Christmas story in the United States, but Rock Crystal by Austrian writer Adalbert Stifter is certainly better known in German speaking countries.  It was selected as a short read at my Catholic Thought book club at Goodreads as lighter read for the Christmas holidays.  My co-moderator at my Catholic Thought book club, who happens to be a German immigrant, told me about it.  At seventy-something pages it is not a novel and not a short story.  It falls into that middle ground called a novella.  But this is such a good novella I want to somehow make it better known in the English reading world.

Stifter, who lived from 1805 to 1868, was born in Bohemia in what is now the Czech Republic, was a noted writer of nature, a Roman Catholic, and highly regarded teacher who was hired to tutor children of aristocrats.  From what I’ve read, Stifter’s work is imbued with faith and morality as well as beautiful descriptions and settings of nature.  Rock Crystal, though not overtly theological, I would say has a Roman Catholic world view.  More on that later.

Thomas Mann, the Nobel Prize winning German writer from the 20th century was an admirer of Stifter and this particular work.  W. H. Auden, who wrote the Introduction for the Mayer and Moore translation, praises Stifter’s skill as a writer where he points out “What might so easily have been a tear-jerking melodrama becomes in his hands a quiet and beautiful parable about the relation of people to places, of man to nature.”  As one reads the work, one does realize the incredible brevity of the work, and yet it feels that one has read a long novel.  It feels epic in length but concise in delineation, a work of real artistry.

Rock Crystal is the simplest of stories, as Auden points out in my Introduction. Two siblings travel over a mountain ridge to their grandparent’s home on the morning of Christmas Eve, spend the day, and are sent off onto their journey home in time before dark set. On their journey back, an unexpected snow fall ensues and obscures their path, which causes the two children to get lost. They spend the night in the elements, survive, and continue to look for their way and are rescued by a search party Christmas Day. (Sorry if I ruined the suspense.)  And while the story is simple, there are a number of things going on that add complexity. Without those complexities it wouldn’t be much of a story; it would be an anecdote. We can get into those complexities as we go along.

Though there are no fixed divisions within the story, there are some natural divisions. There is a lengthy expository section, part of which describes the Austrian locale, part of which describes the towns and townsfolk in the setting, and part of which describes the children’s parents and their maternal grandparents, and the relationships between them. That all adds into the complexity.

There are two translations available, one by Lee M. Hollander and one by the combined duo of Elizabeth Mayer and Marianne Moore. I read the Mayer and Moore translation. Though the Hollander translation is in the public domain, and you can read it online at Gutenberg, hereThe text on that link provides several German novellas, but if you scroll down you can find Stifter’s.  Also Libravox has an audio version available free. I checked it out and it sounds pretty good. My edition has 76 pages with the introduction, but it reads faster than that. I read it in two or three sittings, which amounted to about three or four hours. I enjoyed, so much so I intend to read it again this week.

So let’s start with the beginning.  I find Stifter’s expository introduction fascinating.  He starts with town’s ceremonies for the Christmas holiday, then he describes the hamlet as situated in the mountains, then the village people in a general way, then he goes into a lengthy description of the mountains and landscape.  That leads to a description of the neck or col that separates the mountains, which leads into a description of the two villages on separate sides of the col, Gschaid and Millsdorf.  It’s not until 12 pages in of a 70 page story that specific inhabitants are mentioned.  Obviously there is some sort of significance to all that.

From the opening chapter:

One of the most beautiful of Church festivals comes in midwinter when nights are long and days are short, when the sun slants toward earth obliquely and snow mantles the fields: Christmas. In many countries the evening that precedes our Lord’s nativity is known as Christmas Eve; in our region we call it Holy Eve, the day following Holy Day, and the night between, Holy Night. The Catholic Church observes Christmas, birthday of our Saviour, by magnificent and holiest ceremonial. In most places, midnight as the very hour of his birth is solemnized by ritual of great splendor, to which the bells ring out their heartsome invitation through the still darkness of the wintry air; then with their lanterns, along dim familiar paths, from snow-clad mountains, past forest-boughs encrusted with rime, through crackling orchards, folk flock to the church from which solemn strains are pouring,—the church rising from the heart of the village, enshrouded in ice-laden trees, its stately windows aglow.

Right there you have three of the most important motifs that will be of importance to the theme: the sacredness of the season, the integration of nature with the life of the town, and the ceremony which binds the season with the life.  Ceremony is very important to story; shortly after Stifter goes on to describe a custom of giving gifts to the children:

It is the custom to present children with gifts the Blessed Christ-child has brought; given usually on Christmas Eve when dusk has deepened into night. Candles are lit, generally a great many, that flicker together with the little wax lights on the fresh green branches of a small fir or spruce tree that has been set in the middle of the room.

Again religion and nature with the tree branches are brought to the fore.  Also significant is that the people are unidentified.  Stifter could have started the story with Conrad and Sanna and their parents.  That would have been the natural thing to do, but he speaks here in a generic mode.  All the townspeople go through these rituals.  What Stifter is emphasizing is the harmonious integration of the townsfolk, Christianity, and their environment.  And you can see this as Stifter begins to focus on the hamlet, the church-spire being the prominent feature.  The main person of the village is the priest, who the villagers “regard with veneration.”  Stifter goes on to describe the village as “a separate world.”

The village people thus constitute a separate world, they know one another by name and are familiar with all the grandfathers’ and great-grandfathers’ tales. All mourn when anyone dies; all know the name of the new-born; they speak a language which is different from that used in the plain; they have their quarrels and settle them; they help one another, and if anything unusual happens, come flocking together.

The village people are said to adhere “to the ancient ways.”  This is a village after my own heart. 

What I’ve described so far is a sense of harmony.  You can’t have a story with only harmony and without introducing a disruptive element that causes a disequilibrium, resulting in tension.  The children losing their way through the mountains in a snow storm is the disruptive element, but there is a greater context which makes the story transcend the lost and found adventure.  The second part of the exposition, describing the histories of the two children’s parents and grandparents, introduces the tension that will be resolved back to a harmonious state.  Let me skip over the landscape description for now, but I’ll come back to show how it’s all symbolic. 

Let’s start with the children’s father, as Stifter does.  He is a shoemaker from Gschaid, but in his youth he was not the model citizen he grew to be, and in contrast to his own father. 

The shoemaker on the square, before he inherited his house, had been a chamois-poacher and in general, so people said, not too model a youth. In school he had always been one of the best pupils. Later he had learned his father’s trade, and after working as a wandering journeyman, had finally come back to the village. But instead of wearing a black hat as becomes a tradesman—such as his father had worn all his life—he perched a green one on his head, stuck every available feather in it, and strutted about wearing the shortest frieze coat in the valley, whereas his father had always worn a dark coat, preferably black—since he was a man of trade—and invariably cut long. The young shoemaker was to be seen on every dance floor and at every bowling alley. If anyone tried to reason with him, he just whistled a tune. He and his marksman’s rifle were at every shooting match in the neighborhood and sometimes he carried home a prize—treasured by him as a great trophy. The prize was usually a set of coins artistically arranged. But the shoemaker, in order to win it, had to disburse many more similar coins, in his usual spendthrift fashion. He went to all the hunts in the neighborhood and had quite a reputation for being a good marksman. Sometimes, however, he fared forth alone with his blunderbuss and spiked shoes, and it was rumored that he had once received a serious wound on his head.

Poacher, spendthrift, wayward, even perhaps prodigal, the young shoemaker stands in contrast to the harmony inherent to the village.  But he changes, and he changes to be able to marry the beautiful girl over the col in the town of Millsdorf, the daughter of the prosperous dyer.
Some time after the death of his parents when he had become proprietor of the house where he now lived all alone, the shoemaker changed into a wholly different person. Whereas till then he was always rollicking about, he now sat in his shop, hammering away on sole-leather, day and night. He boasted that no one could make better shoes and footgear, and engaged only the best workmen whom he nagged and pestered a good deal as they sat at their work, making them follow his instructions and do exactly as he told them.

The shoemaker’s youthful eccentricities had caused a discord in the town’s natural harmony, but the nature of the town’s life—and a desire for marriage, which by the way is a church sacrament—caused the discord to be resolved.  Ultimately he wins over the dyer’s family and the daughter, marries her, and takes over to his town of Gschaid. 

But now a new set of discords arise.  Being new to Gschaid, which has very different customs from Millsdorf and being away from her family, she feels isolated, even alienated. 

Since the people of Gschaid seldom leave their valley and almost never go to Millsdorf, from which they are separated by mountain and by customs—and since, furthermore, no one ever leaves his valley to settle in a neighboring one—although removals to great distances occur—and lastly since no girl ever leaves her valley except on the rare occasion when, obeying the dictates of love, as a bride, she follows her husband into another valley—so it came about that after the beautiful daughter of the dyer of Millsdorf married the shoemaker of Gschaid she was still regarded by the people of Gschaid as a stranger; and although they were not unkind to her, and even loved her for her charm and virtue, there was always something, reserve or a sort of shy respect, that kept her from enjoying the same familiarity and warm intimacy that existed between the people that belonged to the valley.

And that’s not the only discord.  After bearing two children, the wife “felt, however, that he did not love the children as much as she thought he ought to, and as she herself loved them; for he looked so serious most of the time and was always preoccupied with his work. He rarely petted or played with them, and always addressed them quietly as one speaks to grown persons.” 

And that completes the exposition of the circumstances leading up to that Christmas Eve where the children venture out to their grandparents in Millsdorf. 

But let’s now look at the description of the mountains, and what it means to the themes in the story.  We are told that the dominating mountain is in the shape of two “horns.” 

South of the village you see a snowy mountain with dazzling horn-shaped peaks, rising, as it seems, from the house-tops themselves, but actually quite far away. All year round, summer and winter, there it is with its jutting crags and white expanses, looking down upon the valley. As the most prominent feature of the landscape and ever before the eyes of the villagers, the mountain has been the inspiration of many a tale.

We are told of the rocks and snow, brooks and meadows, and the steep inclines and sharp descents, all of which pose a danger to the traveler, and we are told of an actual death, a baker, carrying his basket.  But the most prominent feature of the landscape is the col.

Ascent of the mountain is made from the valley. One follows in the southerly direction a smooth, well-made road that leads by a neck or “col” into another valley. A col is a mountain-range of moderate height, connecting two larger, more considerable, ranges; and following it, one passes between the ranges from one valley into another. The col which links the snow-mountain with the corresponding range opposite, is thickly studded with pines. At about the highest point of the road before it descends into the further valley, stands a little rustic memorial.

That memorial is a marker of where the baker died, right on the col.  So picture this: you have two peaks, the “horns” and in between is a neck or col of some elevation too, though not as high as the horns.  On one side of the col is the valley that leads to Millsdorf, and the other is the valley that leads to Gschaid.  Two horns, two valleys, two towns, two cultures, two families.  Some writers like to work in an aesthetic of twos and some of threes.  Stifter is clearly working with twos, and the aesthetic of twos is one of a dialectic, and a dialectic resolves into a synthesis.  The young shoemaker had a division with him of a person born to a tradition but felt the longing of self-realization.  But the desire for marriage and the act of marriage synthesized him to the standout craftsman of his trade.  The story can now take place to synthesize the new divisions.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The First Part Henry VI by William Shakespeare

I have finally gotten around to reading one of William Shakespeare’s Henry VI plays, and of course one starts with the first of the trilogy.  For the record, I’ve now read 29 of the 37 authentically identified Shakespearian plays.  A good portion of the unread plays happen to be Histories.  If you are unaware, critics categorize the Bard’s play into Comedies, Tragedies, and Histories.  I’ve read all the great history plays: Richard III, Richard II, the two Henry IV plays, and Henry V.  What’s left are the three Henry VI plays, King John, and Henry VIII, all lesser plays in stature and reputation.  Scratch one of the Henry VI off.  Admittedly it’s hard to motivate to read the lesser plays given one has come to appreciate the wonder of the great plays, but still one has to complete them all.  Some people have bucket lists of traveling across the world; my bucket list consists of reading all of Shakespeare.

Most people are more familiar with the great tragedies, since they are probably forced to read those in school.  And it’s true, there is something beyond superlative in Shakespeare’s tragedies.  They were absolutely groundbreaking in form and range.  But Shakespeare’s great comedies and histories are also head-and-shoulders above what was written in his day, and perhaps outside of France’s Moliere, you cannot find another playwright until several hundred years later with Ibsen and Strindberg that has as many great dramas as Shakespeare.  Shakespeare’s great comedies and histories also stand with greats of their respective genre.

The reason I decided to read Henry VI was mentioned back in the first post I wrote on Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc and that is because the same historical events are part of both works.  Indeed, the historical figures are in both, and since the historical events were fresh in my mind it would make sense.  Plus I was curious how Shakespeare would portray Joan, and I’ll get to that eventually.

Now it’s quite possible that Henry VI, Part 1 was Shakespeare’s first complete drama, and as the Wikipedia entry states, he may have had some help by either Christopher Marlowe and/or Thomas Nashe, both dramatists in Shakespeare’s day.  It’s quite possible.  The Shakespeare-Online site – a very good resource and way better than some of the other Shakespeare sites on the web—suspects that someone other than the Bard crafted Joan of Arc’s speeches.  There may be something to that.  Most of the language in the play certainly rings of Shakespeare’s voice, except for Joan.  I can’t put my finger on it, but Joan does not sound like a Shakespearean character.  Again, more on Joan later.

Given it was Shakespeare’s first play, one sees some of the inexperience, but one sees some real great flourishes as well.  That scene in Act II, Scene IV where the nobles of York and Lancaster pluck white and red roses off a bush, setting in motion the seeds of the War ofthe Roses, is brilliant.  The poetic flourishes can rise with the greatest of Shakespeare’s.  For instance, the play begins with the dead body of the heroic King Henry V, and the Dukes of Bedford and Gloucester eulogize in sweeping language to capture the greatness of the fallen man.  From the plays very opening lines in Act I, Scene 1:

BEDFORD     Hung be the heavens with black, yield day to night!
Comets, importing change of times and states,
Brandish your crystal tresses in the sky,
And with them scourge the bad revolting stars
That have consented unto Henry's death!      5
King Henry the Fifth, too famous to live long!
England ne'er lost a king of so much worth.

GLOUCESTER          England ne'er had a king until his time.
Virtue he had, deserving to command:
His brandish'd sword did blind men with his beams: 10
His arms spread wider than a dragon's wings;
His sparking eyes, replete with wrathful fire,
More dazzled and drove back his enemies
Than mid-day sun fierce bent against their faces.
What should I say? his deeds exceed all speech:       15
He ne'er lift up his hand but conquered.

I’m using the online text at Shakespeare-Online for this and all subsequent quotes. 

And so we have of the great King Henry V, model of leadership, soldiery, and virtue to be contrasted with the King VI and the governing aristocracy.  Now Henry VI has somewhat of an excuse, he’s rather young.  Shakespeare doesn’t quite follow the time scale; Henry VI was less than a year old when his father died, and the events of the drama would have occurred when Henry VI would have been about nine years old.  He was a child king, under the Protectorate of the Duke of Gloucester.  But in the play he sounds more like a teenager than a nine year old.  I have never seen this acted out, so I don’t know how directors cast it.

It is a long play, with an exorbitant number of characters, thirty-five in all, not including attendants and messengers, and of course the armies of soldiers.  Perhaps that is what speaks to Shakespeare’s inexperience the most.  After a while I could not recall the distinction between the Earls of Warwick, Somerset, Suffolk, Salisbury, and so on.  They became a sort of blur, and perhaps are under characterized, even though it’s a long play. 

What makes it a long play are the divisions.  First off there is the division between the French and the English fighting over the French territories.  But what speaks to the play’s central theme are the divisions and hostilities within the English side.  There is the division inside the English King’s court fighting over the influence on the child king.   Then there is a secular verses ecclesiastical division.  There is a subtle division between lords in England with the English fighting in France on how to fight the war.  And of course there is the great division between the Houses of York and Lancaster that will blossom into the War of the Roses.  That may be following the history of the events, but it does make it difficult to follow.  But as it turns out, this was a popular play in its day, so perhaps the divisions were second nature to the contemporary audience, enough so that they could easily follow it. 

This division on the English side is dramatized early on in what seems a rather unimportant little scene.  Gloucester, the Lord Protector of the realm as overseer of the child king, comes to London Tower, which I believe was the royal palace, and is prevented from entering.  Here’s the beginning of Act I Scene 3:

London. Before the Tower.   
[Enter GLOUCESTER, with his Serving-men in blue coats]

GLOUCESTER          I am come to survey the Tower this day:
Since Henry's death, I fear, there is conveyance.
Where be these warders, that they wait not here?
Open the gates; 'tis Gloucester that calls.

First Warder    [Within] Who's there that knocks so imperiously?     5

First Serving-Man       It is the noble Duke of Gloucester.

Second Warder           [Within] Whoe'er he be, you may not be let in.

First Serving-Man       Villains, answer you so the lord protector?

First Warder    [Within] The Lord protect him! so we answer him:
We do no otherwise than we are will'd.         10

GLOUCESTER          Who willed you? or whose will stands but mine?
There's none protector of the realm but I.
Break up the gates, I'll be your warrantize.
Shall I be flouted thus by dunghill grooms?

[ Gloucester's men rush at the Tower Gates, and WOODVILE the Lieutenant speaks within ]

WOODVILE  What noise is this? what traitors have we here?         15

GLOUCESTER          Lieutenant, is it you whose voice I hear?
Open the gates; here's Gloucester that would enter.

WOODVILE  Have patience, noble duke; I may not open;
The Cardinal of Winchester forbids:
From him I have express commandment        20
That thou nor none of thine shall be let in.

GLOUCESTER          Faint-hearted Woodvile, prizest him 'fore me?
Arrogant Winchester, that haughty prelate,
Whom Henry, our late sovereign, ne'er could brook?
Thou art no friend to God or to the king:       25
Open the gates, or I'll shut thee out shortly.
Serving-Men   Open the gates unto the lord protector,
Or we'll burst them open, if that you come not quickly.

And so after the scene eulogizing Henry V (scene 1), and a scene where the French resistance unifies in strategy around Joan (scene 2), we get a scene where the highest lord in England other than the child king is blocked by the Cardinal of Winchester from entering the seat of government.  But notice the stage directions right after Gloucester’s words above: “[Enter to the Protector at the Tower Gates BISHOP OF WINCHESTER and his men in tawny coats].”  So the Bishop’s men have tawny coats which contrast with the blue coats (see the stage directions at the beginning quoted above).  Blue coats verses tawny coats, white rose verses red rose, English banners verses French banners, the divisions are visually laid out for the audience.

I’m not going to present details of the various divisions; I think you now have the key to the play.  The divisions are made possible because the weakness of the king.  That’s not to say that Henry VI doesn’t say the right things.  He does, for instance here when once again Gloucester and Winchester are at each other’s throats:

KING HENRY VI     Uncles of Gloucester and of Winchester,
The special watchmen of our English weal,
I would prevail, if prayers might prevail,        70
To join your hearts in love and amity.
O, what a scandal is it to our crown,
That two such noble peers as ye should jar!
Believe me, lords, my tender years can tell
Civil dissension is a viperous worm    75
That gnaws the bowels of the commonwealth.

Yes exactly, it “gnaws the bowels of the commonwealth.”  And do they stop in that very scene?  No.  Gloucester, in Machiavellian mode, offers his hand of peace to Winchester, who at first refuses, but then in counter Machivellian mode, accepts it with an aside snark, “[Aside] So help me God, as I intend it not!” (III.1: 141).  And the King in all his innocence is gleeful.

KING HENRY VI     O, loving uncle, kind Duke of Gloucester,
How joyful am I made by this contract!
Away, my masters! trouble us no more;
But join in friendship, as your lords have done.
            (III.1: 142-145)

Join in what friendship?  There is only friendship within the various factions, but the seeds of the realm’s chaos are sown. 

And the fruits of these divisions are being born on the battlefields of France, where the English, despite heroic effort, are being defeated.  The French through Joan take Orléans and Reims, and Charles VIII, the Dauphin, is crowned King of France.  The heroism of the English fighting in France is dramatized through the fighting and death of John Talbot, the Earl of Shrewsbury, and his son, young John.  Before the battle at Bourdeaux, with the English facing annihilation, old John tries to send young John away from the battle to avoid certain death.  Young John refuses and wishes to die if he must fighting with his father.  The exchange is delineated in rhyming couplets.  Here’s a sample:

TALBOT        Shall all thy mother's hopes lie in one tomb?

JOHN TALBOT         Ay, rather than I'll shame my mother's womb.           35

TALBOT        Upon my blessing, I command thee go.

JOHN TALBOT         To fight I will, but not to fly the foe.

TALBOT        Part of thy father may be saved in thee.

JOHN TALBOT         No part of him but will be shame in me.

TALBOT        Thou never hadst renown, nor canst not lose it.         40

JOHN TALBOT         Yes, your renowned name: shall flight abuse it?

TALBOT        Thy father's charge shall clear thee from that stain.

JOHN TALBOT         You cannot witness for me, being slain.
If death be so apparent, then both fly.

TALBOT        And leave my followers here to fight and die?          45
My age was never tainted with such shame.

JOHN TALBOT         And shall my youth be guilty of such blame?
No more can I be sever'd from your side,
Than can yourself yourself in twain divide:
Stay, go, do what you will, the like do I;       50
For live I will not, if my father die.

TALBOT        Then here I take my leave of thee, fair son,
Born to eclipse thy life this afternoon.
Come, side by side together live and die.
And soul with soul from France to heaven fly.          55
            (IV.5: 34-55)

Why the couplets?  I think it’s there to imply disagreement in love rather than division and discord.  And then at the battle, old Talbot comes into the scene mortally wounded and asks for his son.

  [Enter Soldiers, with the body of JOHN TALBOT]

TALBOT        Thou antic death, which laugh'st us here to scorn,
Anon, from thy insulting tyranny,
Coupled in bonds of perpetuity,         20
Two Talbots, winged through the lither sky,
In thy despite shall 'scape mortality.
O, thou, whose wounds become hard-favour'd death,
Speak to thy father ere thou yield thy breath!
Brave death by speaking, whether he will or no;        25
Imagine him a Frenchman and thy foe.
Poor boy! he smiles, methinks, as who should say,
Had death been French, then death had died to-day.
Come, come and lay him in his father's arms:
My spirit can no longer bear these harms.       30
Soldiers, adieu! I have what I would have,
Now my old arms are young John Talbot's grave.
            (IV.7: 18-32)

What a visually dramatic moment that is, father and son dead in each other’s arms.

As to Joan of Arc, or Joan La Pucelle as she is mostly referred to in the play, one has to be disappointed.  “La Pucelle” translates into “the maid.”  Shakespeare took the common English view as Joan as some sort of sorceress, but I guess what other view could he have taken?  This is supposedly haw she is portrayed in Holinshed's Chronicles, Shakespeare’s source for English history.  But she is more than a sorceress.  At first she is an Amazon.  She isn’t just a strategist and inspirational leader, she wields a sword and fights real duels.  Here is the exchange between Joan and the Dauphin when they first meet and she convinces him of her supernatural abilities.

JOAN LA PUCELLE            Dauphin, I am by birth a shepherd's daughter,
My wit untrain'd in any kind of art.
Heaven and our Lady gracious hath it pleased           75
To shine on my contemptible estate:
Lo, whilst I waited on my tender lambs,
And to sun's parching heat display'd my cheeks,
God's mother deigned to appear to me
And in a vision full of majesty           80
Will'd me to leave my base vocation
And free my country from calamity:
Her aid she promised and assured success:
In complete glory she reveal'd herself;
And, whereas I was black and swart before,  85
With those clear rays which she infused on me
That beauty am I bless'd with which you see.
Ask me what question thou canst possible,
And I will answer unpremeditated:
My courage try by combat, if thou darest,     90
And thou shalt find that I exceed my sex.
Resolve on this, thou shalt be fortunate,
If thou receive me for thy warlike mate.

CHARLES     Thou hast astonish'd me with thy high terms:
Only this proof I'll of thy valour make,          95
In single combat thou shalt buckle with me,
And if thou vanquishest, thy words are true;
Otherwise I renounce all confidence.

JOAN LA PUCELLE            I am prepared: here is my keen-edged sword,
Deck'd with five flower-de-luces on each side;         100
The which at Touraine, in Saint Katharine's
Out of a great deal of old iron I chose forth.

CHARLES     Then come, o' God's name; I fear no woman.

JOAN LA PUCELLE            And while I live, I'll ne'er fly from a man.     105

[Here they fight, and JOAN LA PUCELLE overcomes]

CHARLES     Stay, stay thy hands! thou art an Amazon
And fightest with the sword of Deborah.

JOAN LA PUCELLE            Christ's mother helps me, else I were too weak.
            (I.2: 73-108)

This isn’t the only place she overcomes men in a physical bout.  It’s interesting that the Blessed Mother is invoked as the source of her strength.  This might have raised eyebrows in Protestant, Elizabethan London, and probably would have been a signal to the audience to disdain her.  Notice too there is a suggestion of future sexual liaison between the two (“warlike mate”) which gets expanded a little further in the scene.  But the French do put faith in her as sent from Providence.  Indeed the religious faith of the French contrast with secular/religious division of the English side, and may have been a reflection of Shakespeare’s contemporaries.  For I’m convinced that Shakespeare was a closet “papist” as one neighbor of his in his home town of Stratford-upon-Avon famously said after Shakespeare had died.

Frankly I find the delineation of Joan’s character altogether baffling.  One moment she is an Amazon, another a saint, another a witch, another a strumpet, another a liar as she tries to escape execution.  Though she contrives victories for most of the play, her powers suddenly cease, and she is captured.  As I said above, her character does not feel it came from Shakespeare’s hand. 

With Joan’s capture and the hostilities between the English and French come to an end, the play concludes.  The French/English division is resolved, but none of the other divisions get resolved.  They are left hanging, but of course this is the first part of a trilogy.  The next two parts of Henry VI will resolve those loose ends.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Notable Quote: Christmas, A New Reality by St. John Chrysostom

I found this wonderful quote for Christmas Day from Church Father, St. John Chrysotom. 

Behold on Christmas a new and wondrous reality. The angels sing and the archangels blend their voices in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt Christ’s glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth and man in heaven. He Who is above now for our redemption dwells here below, and we who are lowly are by divine mercy raised up. Bethlehem this day resembles heaven, hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices. Ask not how. For where God wills, nature yields. For He willed. He had the power. He descended. He redeemed. All things move in obedience to God. This day He Who is born and He Who is becomes what He is not. He is God become man, yet not departing from His Godhead.
– St. John Chrysostom

I found the quote from an article on five striking quotes on Christmas by our Church Fathers in Aleteia by Philip Kosloski.  The other four quotes are also worth reading, here.