February 19, 2006

A Discrepancy? Where?

This is my fourth encounter with The Lion in Winter, and until now each one has been different. The first version I saw was the 2003 made-for-TV movie starring Patrick Stewart and Glenn Close. This one is actually still my favorite, a fact which continues to surprise me.

My second encounter was with the 1968 movie version starring Peter O'Toole, Katherine Hepburn, and Anthony Hopkins. Shockingly, I did not like this version nearly as much as the later one. It lacks the energy, emotion, and playfulness of the newer version, seeming somewhat dry and boring in comparison.

Then, about a year and a half ago, I grabbed as many copies of the play as I could get my hands on and performed it with the SC Players. I played Phillip, and enjoyed the unique opportunity to really get inside the story and see it as one of the characters.

Now we have come full circle, and I have seen the newer version of the movie for the second time. This time, too, has been different, however. Now I am seeing the movie as the historical backdrop of the period in which Chrétien de Troyes was writing his courtly romances. The historical reality as presented by The Lion in Winter forms a very interesting contrast to the idealized chivalric stories of the period as presented by Tristan + Isolde.

As the movie begins, Eleanor of Aquitaine (former wife of the King of France) and her two eldest sons, Richard and Geoffrey, have just been defeated in their attempt to overthrow Eleanor's current husband, King Henry II of England. Eleanor is imprisoned, her sons slink back to rule their respective territories, and Henry begins to raise his youngest son, John, to be the next king.

Time passes, and during the winter of 1183, Henry convenes his Christmas court at Chinon. Eleanor is temporarily freed to visit and whole family gathers to celebrate the holidays while trying to gain an edge in the squabble over who will be the next king. Henry is set on John, Eleanor on Richard, and Geoffrey on . . . well, himself. Into the midst of this comes Phillip II of France (son of Eleanor's first husband) who is demanding that Henry honor his treaty with France whereby Phillip's sister Alais was to marry the next king of England in exchange for Henry's acquisition of the Vexen (a large tract of French land). The only hitch is that Alais is still not married, partly because no one knows yet who will be the next king, but mostly because Henry is sleeping with her.

Things get more complicated from there, and emotional outbursts and devious machinations fly in all directions as our "heroes" maneuver furiously to acquire whatever it is they happen to be after. Henry wants the kingdom he has built to stay united under the rule of his favorite son, without having to give Alais to him or give up the land from France. Eleanor wants her favorite son on the throne, her freedom, her former lands back in her possession (the Aquitaine), and Henry. All three sons want the throne. Phillip wants to destroy the man who humiliated his father. Alais wants love. And on and on it goes for over two and a half hours.

Possibly the most entertaining aspect of The Lion in Winter aside from the hilarious dialogue and rapid plot reversals, is the exercise of attempting to discover just which part of the main characters is genuine, and which is a show put on to get their way. By the final scene one is tempted to believe that, either we haven't seen a single real emotion during the entire display, or these people are all certifiably insane, possibly both.

This, then, was the generation that invented chivalry. And a fine bunch of dysfunctionial backstabbers, manipulators, and nitwits they are, too. It almost begins to make the chivalric code look like more like a Machiavellian public relations maneuver than a sincere collection of virtuous guidelines. The ultimate question that this contrast brings me to ask myself is this: Are the realities of the 12th century less important to its legacy than the fictions (artistic and literary) which it produced? Or, on an even more basic level: Which has a greater impact on us today, the actualities of history or the dominant perceptions our forebears leave behind?

My over-simplified answer: Our perceptions have the greater impact, but it is very important that we retain an awareness of the reality in order to maintain a properly balanced view of history.

Posted by Jared at 02:53 PM | TrackBack

February 16, 2006

Chrétien Lives!

I walked into Tristan + Isolde not expecting to enjoy it very much. From the trailers it appeared entirely too much like a page out of the same book as Romeo + Juliet, right down to the stupid "+" in the title. Nevertheless, the demands of Hero Quest and the Holy Grail required my attendance, so I settled comfortably into my seat, determined to see what it was all about and give it a fair hearing. And the results were not nearly so bad as I had led myself to believe.

The story proceeds thusly: The various tribes of Ancient Britain are in a bad way. All of them, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and so forth, are being oppressed by the powerful Irish across the sea. Together they would have little difficulty keeping the Irish at bay, but the King of Ireland (a crafty son of a gun) is fairly good at keeping things fragmented.

As the movie begins, the leaders of the various tribes have gathered in secret to finally form an alliance under the leadership of the best of them: Lord Mark. However, a traitor has tipped off the Irish, and they arrive in force to break things up. In the process, they also kill the parents of young Tristan and Lord Mark's pregnant wife. Mark himself loses a hand saving Tristan's life, then takes him home and adopts him.

Years pass, the Irish maintain their position, and Tristan grows into a knight of considerable prowess. Finally, the Irish send out one raid too many after Mark's womenfolk, and Tristan leads a bold assault on the Irish forces. The Celtic tribes win, but Tristan is poisoned and presumed dead. His grief-stricken comrades drop him in a boat and shove him out into the sea. He floats to Ireland, is discovered by Isolde, daughter of the Irish king, and is nursed back to health. Meanwhile, they (of course) fall madly in love and she deceives him about her identity, claiming to be a mere servant.

Tristan returns from the dead just in time to participate in a tournament that the king of Ireland is holding in hopes of keeping the various tribal leaders at each other's throats while he rebuilds his forces. The prize is a sizable chunk of land and the king's daughter . . . and Tristan enters the tournament in the name of Mark, not knowing whose hand he is actually fighting for.

The rest is fairly easy to predict (more or less). Isolde has no choice but to marry Mark, and Tristan has no choice but to let her. They struggle with their feelings for each other, and finally succumb to the lure of adultery. The traitor and the Irish king find out about the affair and use it to break Mark's newfound unifying power over the other tribes, "stumbling" upon the couple's final tryst with Mark and the other leaders. Finally, Tristan chooses his loyalty to Mark over his love for Isolde and sacrifices himself to undo the damage they have caused, and all of the main characters live unhappily ever after so that everyone else can live happily ever after.

Despite some decidedly angsty performances, particularly from Tristan, the movie worked quite well as a tragedy of courtly romance in the tradition of Chrétien de Troyes and other royal troubadours of the 10th to 12th centuries. I have only recently been introduced to their works, but already I could see the connections between the movie and the medieval romances. There is a strong sense of inevitable doom hovering over the characters and events thanks to an excellent use of foreshadowing.

When Tristan finally buys the farm, we realize that it had to happen that way. Adulterous couples don't tend to end well in the medieval tradition. Additionally, the movie employed some striking symbolism, most notably with the relationship between Tristan and Mark. Mark loses his right hand to save Tristan's life, and Tristan becomes his strong right hand as he grows up.

My group presented on "The Knight of the Cart" (of the four Arthurian Romances by de Troyes that we read for class). This story probably bears the strongest resemblance to the story of the movie because it is the only one which glorifies an adulterous relationship rather than marital fidelity (namely, the Lancelot and Guinevere connection). The two stories employ many of the same elements in approaching the relationship. The Mark-Isolde-Tristan triangle is an exact parallel of the Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot triangle. Both Tristan and Lancelot perform great and daring feats of arms, inspired by their love. Both couples wrestle with the morality of what they are doing, but are unable to stop. In terms of the essentials, both movie and book are telling the same story.

Studying Chrétien de Troyes and the courtly romance genre definitely enhanced my enjoyment of the movie several-fold. By itself it's nothing special, just a halfway decent popcorn flick, but with a bit of understanding of the long history behind its story, it became the latest incarnation of a centuries-old literary tradition. And that was a perspective which simply couldn't fail to fascinate me.

Posted by Jared at 12:43 PM | TrackBack

February 15, 2006

Now There's a Shocker

Courtesy Sharpton.

I Am A: Neutral Evil Elf Bard Thief

Neutral Evil characters believe in Number One. Their personal gain takes precedance over all else, and they will work with whomever necessary and whatever institutions necessary to further their own goals.

Elves are the eldest of all races, although they are generally a bit smaller than humans. They are generally well-cultured, artistic, easy-going, and because of their long lives, unconcerned with day-to-day activities that other races frequently concern themselves with. Elves are, effectively, immortal, although they can be killed. After a thousand years or so, they simply pass on to the next plane of existance.

Primary Class:
Bards are the entertainers. They sing, dance, and play instruments to make other people happy, and, frequently, make money. They also tend to dabble in magic a bit.

Secondary Class:
Thieves are the most roguish of the classes. They are sneaky and nimble-fingered, and have skills with traps and locks. While not all use these skills for burglary, that is a common occupation of this class.

Find out What D&D Character Are You?, courtesy ofNeppyMan (e-mail)

Posted by Jared at 10:02 PM | TrackBack

February 12, 2006

Close Encounters of the Shallow Kind

So, I was in the mall eating lunch with Rachel today and we happened to notice a fairly large gathering of people in the central plaza. Wandering over to get a closer look, we happened upon a twisted and sickening sight: Dozens of small girls between the ages of about 6 months and 5 years dolled up in bows and frilly dresses and being paraded on a stage by their mothers as part of what was apparently an infant beauty contest.

A number of words and phrases came to mind at this point, things like shallow, irresponsible, bad parenting, and self-esteem death. There were babies who couldn't even walk, and little 'uns who could walk but obviously had no idea what was going, all being paraded about like mantlepiece ornaments.

However, I believe the scariest one of all was a small girl who couldn't have been older than five. She stepped confidently onto the stage, face completely straight, and sauntered across to the center. Turning to face the audience, she placed first one hand on her hip, then another, shifting her weight in the appropriate direction. There was nothing innocent or childlike in her movements at all. Nothing but her size differentiated her from adult beauty contestants that I've seen on TV. She was all business.

What's she going to be like by the time she hits 12? 15? 18? What about the other girls? How will they turn out, being raised by mothers who are already shoving them onto the modeling stage? The entire display was simply depressing.

Me = Disgusted

Posted by Jared at 03:21 PM | TrackBack

February 11, 2006

If Only . . .

. . . I had known this earlier, I would have switched majors. Oh, wait.

(Courtesy Martinez)

You scored as English. You should be an English major! Your passion lies in writing and expressing yourself creatively, and you hate it when you are inhibited from doing so. Pursue that interest of yours!





























What is your Perfect Major? (PLEASE RATE ME!!<3)
created with QuizFarm.com
Posted by Jared at 02:15 PM | TrackBack

February 10, 2006

The Dark (Southern) Side of 1776

I have realized before that the story we tell of the American Revolution is not a complete one, but until last week's reading, I had never realized how thoroughly incomplete it is. The Revolutionary War I learned about was one that the vast majority of colonial Americans were solidly behind, while the few loyalists spent the war shaking quietly with impotent rage or departing for more crown-friendly shores. Militarily we won some battles and lost some battles. Things got a bit dicey here and there, but ultimately we won. 'Nuff said. The real battle started when we had to form a stable government and write a constitution.

However, excerpts from The American Revolution: Explorations in the History of American Radicalism directed my attention to the American Revolution as it transpired in the South. The South, it seems, was not a good place to spend the Revolutionary War. While Washington struggled to stay one step ahead of the British in New England, the South dissolved into wild, ungovernable pockets of anarchy and civil war.

Whigs and Tories feuded ruthlessly with each other, and which party a man belonged to could change with the weather. If a group of Whigs raided your crops on Monday, you'd be Tory on Tuesday, but if a group of Tories stole your livestock on Wednesday, you'd be a Whig again by Thursday. Of course, it wasn't long before ordinary people stopped caring about who would win (if they ever had) and simply tried to survive. And amoral types could change sides with ease (or avoid faction labels altogether) in favor of simply taking material advantage of the confusion.

Naturally, the Revolution wrought economic havoc in every state. Some profited off of the war, and many more were completely ruined. With economic stability overturned, the existence of social classes, even in some places in the South, could be seen as being temporarily in flux. Much of the world as it existed before the war started had to be pushed momentarily to the side in order to cope with larger concerns.

Meanwhile the Whig leadership struggled to maintain control over their immediate surroundings (primarily the coastal cities), abandoning the backcountry to govern itself (which it didn't). The militia was entirely beyond anyone's control, even the generals'. One military commander didn't dare to call upon his own troops, knowing that 3 in 4 of them were loyal to the opposite side. In good Scotch-Irish fashion, members of the backcountry militia followed no one's orders but their own. A general had to be persuasive and diplomatic in addition to being a brilliant tactician.

The Tory leadership had an interesting role to play in all this as well. For instance, approximately four score and seven years before Abraham Lincoln set the slaves free with the Emancipation Proclomation, the royal governor of Virginia tried to pull the same stunt on his disaffected state (with less satisfactory results). When news of this reached Maryland, they immediately closed off all contact with their sister-state, desperate to contain that particular phenomenon, lest the contagion spread.

Ultimately, General Nathanael Greene and General Cornwallis both realized the necessity in the South of winning over the hearts and minds of the people. A true military victory would be impossible to achieve, and fighting could go on indefinitely so long as a significant number of the opposing side could attack from the safety of the swamp. Both leaders turned their attention to winning men over to their side rather than killing men on the other side.

Of course, battles still took place. One amusing anecdote involves the afterwath of an encounter between Greene's and Cornwallis' forces. Greene had outnumbered Cornwallis two to one, but had allowed his army to be driven back into the swamp, knowing the British lacked the strength to pursue. Cornwallis, camping in the shadow of a largely pro-Tory settlement, enjoyed the attention of a steady stream of local well-wishers in and out of the camp, visiting to offer verbal support and shake his hand. But none of them would actually pick up arms and join the British.

Ultimately, of course, the British were forced to withdraw thanks to a variety of factors, not the least of which was that trouble brewing across the English Channel trumped trouble across the Atlantic. What the war left behind in the South was the knowledge on the part of the elite upper-class that they could no longer hope to govern as they pleased. The masses must be appeased in order to maintain power and avoid internal violence.

Posted by Jared at 11:27 AM | TrackBack

February 06, 2006

Whiling Away

Now, here's a subject which has generated a great deal of curiosity in recent days. At least one person (I think) has asked me what I do with my time when I'm sitting in the library for hours on end. Well, when I'm not reading, for pleasure or homework, or blogrolling, or reading the comics (see related links at right) I'm trawling through the Internet for entertaining stuffs.

This, for instance, is a fantastic site which has caused me to completely lose my composure on multiple occasions . . . It's the library in here for goodness sake!

I found this list quite interesting and entertaining . . . I've read through it a couple of times.

This op-ed fascinated me because I have lately been wrestling with the concept of patriotism, what it means, and whether there is any appropriate form which it can take.

Stuff like this makes me shake in my boots.

And that's all the time I have for today . . . And yes, I was just desperate to get some content up.

Posted by Jared at 02:09 PM | TrackBack