All posts by soniajarmula

I love words. I am a reader, a writer, a period drama and Wes Anderson lover, an addict to good movies and good cinematography, typewriters, and a tea enthusiast.

Disclaimer: I Am Not An Artist

I am not an artist. I can’t stress that enough, and when I was looking over the things to do for badges, creating a work of visual art didn’t strike me as something I could do well, but then today I was thinking about it and wondered about the visual of Lear’s crown, how I might go about making a visual work out of it. And I did. In my own unpracticed, unskilled hand.

King Lear

When I was working on this, I had this quote of Shakespeare in my head: “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” (Henry IV, II, III). The crown had to be gold to represent the wealth of Lear as a king, but also it is a heavy metal, and his crown, his being king, is a heavy burden that cost him.

I made leaves and little flowers on the crown, symbolic of Lear’s crown of weeds and flowers towards the end of the play. The flowers have three petals, symbolic of the three daughters, and the red jewel stands for the bloodshed caused by the division and union of the sisters. At the centre of the crown is a black and red space where a different jewel would be but has been removed – this colour represents the darkness and death brought by Lear’s disowning of Cordelia, and to the left you can see the jewel.

I decided on a pearl for the jewel because of the line in Act IV that compares Cordelia’s tears to pearls – “as pearls from diamonds dropped”. Pearls are beautiful (as Cordelia is frequently called) and are extremely rare – I think there is something to be said about one third of Lear’s daughters being good and loyal. The pearl is crushed and there is blood around it to symbolize Cordelia’s end. On either side of the space of the removed pearl are two red jewels to symbolize Regan and Goneril, and also there is a pattern of two blue dots – there is clearly a space for one in the middle, and I decided not to fill one in to represent the loss of Cordelia from the family.

The broken pearl is in the shadow of Lear’s crown, symbolizing the darkness in the play that is spurred by her disownment. As well, the shadow under Lear’s crown is several different colours to represent the madness of Lear, as there is no clear path for him, shown by how there is no one clear colour.


Stratford Festival’s King Lear

This weekend I got to see King Lear as put on by the Stratford Festival at Cineplex. I really, really enjoyed the performance and all throughout the film I was taking notes, as you can see is rather difficult in a dark theatre, but I had some things I could sort of make sense of, enough to help me write this response to it.

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I love movies and have a great love of cinematography, and knowing this performance to be a stage performance, I wasn’t expecting much in the way of cinematography, but I was really pleasantly surprised. There were incredibly varying shots and angles that were very well cut between; there was a great sense of fluidity. The framing could have been improved in some places but for the most part I was really impressed.

Being a performance on a stage, it was really interesting to see the audience in the background of some shots and to actually feel like you were watching a play in that theatre. The layout of the stage was very interesting, a much different shape than I am used to performing on or seeing, and it allowed for the audience to be seated on three of the four sides of the stage. Watching a film performance of this was made really interesting because the camera had so many places to be and actors could sidestep the traditional rule of never having your back to the audience, yet this didn’t affect a film audience’s viewing because the camera angles directed the focus properly. Sometimes some members of the audience would be unable to see a character except the back of them, but I think that this is a small sacrifice in order to offer a more three-dimensional experience. As well, the stage’s different levels allowed for the actors to play at different physical levels, such as when Edmund died on the stairs, and gave them different entrances and exits; there was a lot of variation and the blocking never got boring.

The special effects were something I really enjoyed and even before seeing the performance I was already excited and curious about seeing the storm sequence and wondering how it would be done – there was some fantastic lighting for lightning, it was very realistic, and great sound for thunder, and then fog machines were used and the actors played being in the rain very convincingly. Other sound effects, especially for the wounds, like the sound of Glocester’s eyes being gouged out, were very impressive. Theatre as an experience is immersive, and I think the power of it could be seen here. In the McKellan version, there were some lighting choices or backdrops that looked so bad that I was rolling my eyes, but not here. Though the staging and lighting was minimal at parts, it completely captured me and held my attention, concentrating it solely on the action and being free from distraction. It’s a bit difficult to explain the true power of theatre, and it didn’t get lost here even in a film version. Although there may have been less stuff like props and set pieces than in the TV movie version, I found this performance altogether more immersive and enjoyable than the McKellan.

One thing that I didn’t enjoy about the McKellan version that we watched was that the costumes were too varied in their time periods and styles; here, that problem was nonexistent. During the intermission there was a behind the scenes featurette from the Stratford Festival in which they detailed the costuming, dying, painting, wig and jewel making and it was so impressive, and that could definitely be seen on stage. I really enjoyed all the costumes and loved the little subtleties that added so much to the viewing. For instance, while in the opening scene, all of Lear’s daughters wore ruff collars on their dresses, only Cordelia’s was a full ruff, Goneril and Regan had ruffs similar to the other version, they were open and gave the impression of a serpent or lizard, which is what the sisters were compared to. The most impressive subtlety for me was in Lear – after dividing his kingdom, little by little you could see that some of his buttons were undone, his shirt was loose, his boots were not the same height – all these little details just showed how he was unravelling, and it was brilliantly done and really accentuated what was going on.

The makeup was absolutely fantastic. I’ve worked with fake blood before in school, a really cheap kind that’s mostly sugar and starts to lose the colour of blood after a few minutes, so I’m always really interested in how fake blood is done in movies and  theatre – it is so difficult to replicate because blood is cells – and the makeup here was fantastic. The blood of Gloucester was very convincing, from the blood that came out of his eyes and what stained his clothing, being the right kind of brown, but in particular, after his bandages were taken off, the empty eye sockets were really stunning and believable, even in the close up shots of him. The dirt and marks on characters like Edgar and Lear were also very good.

While the characters said the same lines in both versions, I thought that the differences in some of the directors’ and actors’ choices led to very different interpretations of the characters, and differences in my feelings towards the characters. This I felt most strongly in the characters of Goneril and Regan. I think that a great deal of this came from how the actresses looked. In the McKellan version, Goneril and Regan were very severe looking and looked much older, here, they didn’t look so scary, and so didn’t seem so evil. Goneril for me in particular did not seem evil, she actually seemed genuine in her pleading with Lear – this could just be how good her character was as an actress, but some of my belief in her evil intentions was lost. As the play progressed, she seemed more selfish than truly evil, and there is some room for debate about which she really is, or if she is more of one than the other. Even so, in this version, Regan seemed  to me to be the one who was more evil, more conniving and less likeable, and I thought it was very interesting to see her as more capable and independent, especially since in the McKellan version we saw Cornwall whispering to her, prodding her to speak more when she was telling Lear how much she loved him – that painted her as weak. Another interesting character interpretation was of Edgar – when he was first introduced, he was feverishly kissing a maid – something I didn’t expect from a character who in the end seemed so perfect. All in all, the interpretations and representations of the characters were delightfully surprising, even if they did differ from expectations.

The performances were truly remarkable and I felt a greater understanding of the plot, characters and dialogue after seeing this interpretation. The actor of Lear was magnificent, and I also really enjoyed Gloucester, Cordelia, and Edgar in particular. The performances were powerful and engaging and I really admired the acting choices made, from where the actors looked or didn’t look, their blocking and their speech. One thing that did bother me however was the delivery of asides and monologues. In particular, Edmund’s lines felt catered to the audience; he was reacting to their laughter and seemed to be speaking directly to them as if knowing that they were there, but I didn’t have this sense with any other character. It seemed to me that all the other characters were expressing their thoughts in their asides and monologues, but not to the audience, and you could see this in the way they reacted to the audience, the way they looked at them and the way they spoke. The lack of consistency was a bit annoying but on the whole I still think that the Stratford Festival did an incredible job in delivering a captivating play.

Voyant: Troilus and Cressida

Voyant (pdf attachment, for some reason my jpg uploads were a “security error”)

I used Voyant to look at the speech by Ulysses in Act I, Scene III of Troilus and Cressida. To summarize what happens at the beginning of this scene before the speech is given, Agamemnon is talking with the other Greek leaders, wondering why the troops are so downcast. He believes that they should embrace the struggle as greatness comes from difficult times. Nestor agrees with him and says that heroism is born of struggle. When Ulysses speaks, he agrees, but also says that the real problem that is making the soldiers downcast is that they are losing respect for authority, and the problem comes from Achilles. Achilles is sitting in his tent lazily, and Patroclus is making fun of the leaders, and Ajax and his slave, Thersites, are doing the same and so are making the problem worse. Everyone agrees that this is a problem and then Anaeas of the Trojans comes, issuing Hector’s challenge to have the greatest Greek warrior fight him in single-combat. After Anaeas leaves, Ulysses realizes that this challenge is meant for Achilles, but he sees that if Achilles were to lose, the entire Greek army would lose morale. He suggests that Ajax fight instead, because if he lost, then they could claim that Achilles would have won had he been the one fighting, and also, this snub of the title of being the greatest Greek warrior would bother Achilles so much that he would join in the war again and bring with him his men. In this speech, Ulysses highlights the importance of restoring the soldiers’ respect for authority, saying that their lack of respect will lead to anarchy and thus destruction.

Reading this speech, you can clearly see the wisdom and intelligence of Ulysses that is so famously shown in The Odyssey. I had this sense that he was a doctor diagnosing the problem and giving the right prescription for it. As wise and intelligent as Ulysses is, and having read The Odyssey and seeing that he has a hubris problem (specifically when he meets the Cyclopes Polyphemus and tells him his name after blinding him, which comes back to bite him), I thought it was interesting that Ulysses was focused on maintaining unity and understanding the need for the Greeks to work together and not seeking to control the army himself, even though he was smart enough to do so.

I thought that the metaphor of the hive and the bee was interesting especially because a similar metaphor was used in The Rape of Lucrece, though under different circumstances. It’s also interesting to note that in Shakespeare’s time, people believed that there was a hive king and not a hive queen – that just shows how deep the misogyny ran.

As seen in my Voyant screenshot, the word “degree” is repeated several times throughout this speech. It’s clear that this word means authority, and Ulysses paints a strong picture of the threat of the lack of authority. In his discussion of the heavens and planets, it means destruction, the reverse of what is natural – something that Shakespeare focuses a lot on in his works. In The Tempest, for example, Prospero calls his younger brother “unnatural” because he usurped him – in Shakespeare’s world, it is unnatural for the younger brother to have more power than the elder. It is a lack of order, and so it is chaos. Ulysses goes on to discuss what a lack of respect of authority means in daily life – sons would disrespect their fathers and justice would fail. In saying that authority is “the ladder to all high designs” it is suggestive of the concept of the divine right of kings, saying that the authority belonging to these Greek kings is given to them by their gods. To me, this speech was especially reminiscent of Macbeth and of Hamlet, where the political upheaval in the lands of the stories actually causes horrible natural disasters – this can be seen in King Lear as well, where when Lear has been cast out by Regan and Goneril he is outside in a terrible storm.

Ulysses is wise and eloquently makes very powerful points that in a time where it was understood that the disintegration of order meant chaos, would have greatly appealed to the audience and would have been supported.

Troilus and Cressida: SoundCloud

Here is my reading of the Prologue of Troilus and Cressida. I really enjoy reading aloud and so this was a lot of fun for me, especially because this was one of my favourite Shakespeare plays and favourite prologues! I just love the lines “and hither am I come
A prologue arm’d, but not in confidence
Of author’s pen or actor’s voice, but suited
In like conditions as our argument,
To tell you, fair beholders, that our play
Leaps o’er the vaunt and firstlings of those broils,
Beginning in the middle, starting thence away
To what may be digested in a play.
Like or find fault; do as your pleasures are:
Now good or bad, ’tis but the chance of war.”

What an enticing opening!

On Annotating

In grade six a friend once asked me if I would jump off a cliff to save a book. Without a moment’s hesitation, I said yes. With the benefit of hindsight, yes, it is pretty silly (depending on the book and the fall perhaps?), but I think it highlights the over-protective instinct I have with my books. I keep them in absolute mint condition. I can’t so much as dog-ear the page of a beaten up library book. Paired with the OCD I have, annotating in my books just isn’t for me.

Hopefully this is not a bad thing, and I do take copious notes to make up for it, notes about everything. Attached are photos of my notes on The Rape of Lucrece. As ghastly as the poem’s subject is, I am really enjoying reading it, and as you can see, my notes are about a lot of different things. I ask a lot of questions that I cannot always answer, why characters do things, why they think they can get away with things or justify them in their minds, what the author would think of the events. As a lover of beautiful descriptions often I will just write images that I find beautiful or words that are strung together beautifully. I look for foreshadowing and motifs, different patterns. I make notes on the choice of words, the connotations that I bring to a text that might change the meaning of what I am reading.

In this first reading of The Rape of Lucrece, I kept noticing the pattern of Lucrece being compared to both a field (particularly a field with lots of flowers) and also a fortressed city, both of which suggested to me that her body is literally a battleground. It made me think a lot about the tragic fact that rape is often used as a weapon.

As sad as the poem is, Shakespeare writes masterfully, and has given me a lot to think about and work with.

Pages and pages
Pages and pages.
Thoughts on imagery.
Thoughts on imagery.