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Oedipus Rex Essay

OEDIPUS REX: Tragedy in Drama and Dance

                Oedipus Rex, written by Sophocles, tells the story of a man from Thebes who kills his father and marries his mother despite valiant efforts to escape this horrible fate. The play is a Greek tragedy in which fate is predestined and controlled absolutely by greater forces. Oedipus, our protagonist, was doomed by Apollo’s oracle to commit sins of murder and incest from his birth:

And to Laius and his wife Jocasta a son was born.

Before even a name had been give to this infant…

His life was clouded with the presage if disaster…

He was destined one day to kill his father,

And to become his own mother’s husband. (23)

The story is a struggle between Oedipus and his destiny as he attempts to flee from the path that had been placed before him. He leaves Corinth, the home of his adopted parents, to thwart the predicted events from occurring, but in doing so walks closer to the very fate he is trying to avoid. Three terms of tragedy reflect the tragic irony and imminent destiny that is the core of a classical tragedy.  The devastation of a hero obliviously trapped in the hands of the gods can be explained through the terms hubris, irony of fate, and catastrophe. These elements present in the script are also found in Martha Graham’s modern expressionist ballet, Night Journey, which expresses the play from Jocasta’s point of view.

Hubris is the fatal flaw of pride that gives Oedipus the bravery to fight the oracle’s prophecy but also blinds him from seeing the truth, therefore eventually leading to his downfall. Oedipus’ pride in defying the gods creates false assurance of his success in evading his fate, and this security allows Oedipus to seek his identity with confidence. Despite warnings from Teresias, Creon and his own mother, Oedipus continues his search, ignoring and insulting those who are essentially trying to protect him. Because of his pride, he fails to understand the intent of their warnings and assumes other reasons for their guarded behaviour:

(To Creon): “Have you the face to stand before my door,

Proved plotter against my life, thief of my crown?” (40)

(Regarding Jocasta): “Go, someone; fetch the shepherd. Leave the lady

To enjoy her pride of birth.” (55)

Oedipus accuses Creon of plotting to steal his throne and dismisses Jocasta as an arrogant noble, scared of discovering her husband as slave-born. In the ballet, Oedipus’ superiority is presented as he climbs the steps made by the sculptures to stand magnificently at the summit. His high status of king is established when he stands above Jocasta, putting his leg over her shoulder, and by the draping robe that displays a powerful stature. The dramatic length and folds that serve this purpose ironically also represents Oedipus’ tangled situation as he pulls and wraps the circular fabric around his arms to find the material overwhelmingly twisted. His difficulty in collecting the infinite fabric of the robe that represents his royalty is also a foreshadowing of a dark, underlying secret. Ultimately, the flaw of pride in Oedipus’ character causes his insistence in proving the stars wrong as well as his ignorance in refusing to realize the truth, until it is too late.

The fact that Oedipus is completely unaware of the implications of his search and that other characters, the chorus, and the audience or reader comprehend more of his fate than he creates irony. After determining that capturing Laius’ murderer would absolve the nation, Oedipus states the punishment that awaits him:

No matter who he may be, he is forbidden

Shelter or intercourse with any man

In all this country over which I rule…

Expelled from every house, unclean, accursed,

In accordance with the Pythian oracle. (32)

Pronouncing this sentence of banishment, Oedipus seals his own future; he enforces the will of the gods yet he himself is the one who defies them. By capturing his enemy, he unknowingly captures himself. In Night Journey, irony of fate is found in the use of a prop that symbolizes the relationship between the king and queen, and its curse. In slow and precise movements, Oedipus and Jocasta use a rope to entwine themselves in poses of affection and sensuality, signifying their union in marriage. In contrast to their dance is chaos presented simultaneously in the music and the choreography of the corps, or chorus. The women jump to crashing chords, perform series of sharp rolls and contractions, and cover their eyes as if to shield themselves from the horror of the contemporary pas de deux. The interlacing rope is an interpretation of another relationship: that of mother and child, connected by an umbilical cord. This same cord is later the tool used to commit Jocasta’s suicide; the double bond between her and Oedipus proved fatal. When perceived differently from reality, certain actions and situations gain significance as they can cause a change of fortune and reversal of fate when the truth is revealed.

The weakness of pride and dramatic irony in both play and ballet lead to the catastrophe, the devastating defeat of the hero. In fighting destiny, Oedipus ends up completing it. This unconscious self-condemnation is also performed by the character Macbeth in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth. The two protagonists possessed hubris, were influenced by supernatural forces, and believed in their abilities to change their fates – Oedipus denies the oracle’s prophecy while Macbeth follows the witches’ predictions. However, despite these similarities, their circumstances differ: Macbeth deliberately chooses to commit murder against his conscience but Oedipus has no idea of the true consequences of his actions. While Macbeth is therefore responsible for his terrible conclusion, in a Classical tragedy, the hero is powerless and will meet his destiny regardless of his choices. With no chance of exonerating himself, Oedipus accepts his misfortune and in a final act of desperation punishes himself to a most awful death, destroying his own eyes to forever wander the earth.

Where is there any beauty for me to see?

Where loveliness of sight and sound? Away!

Lead me quickly away

Out of this land. I am lost,

Hated of gods, no man so damned. (63)

The classical tragedy of Oedipus Rex portrays the impossible battle between man and his destiny. Time is inevitable, and so is the fate that with all certainty will be fulfilled. In Night Journey, Teresias, the blind prophet, is the last character to be seen, crossing the stage with his staff. The steady pounding of his stick demands authority in the complete silence following Jocasta’s death. It is the last, echoing sound, symbolizing the advance of time, sealing of the prophecy, and continuing power of fate.

Published from June 14, 2012.

(To my email followers: I’m sorry if you receive duplicate emails; I had publish this earlier but something happened that caused it to be turned into a draft again. Sorry for the hassle.)

Thanks for reading,
thebookybunhead

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Mythology Essay

Different societies have different beliefs that create a diversity of cultures. Elements in mythology provide explanations for common human questions of life and consequently shape the ideas and values of a people and their civilization.

With the mystery of creation comes the belief that some greater, intangible force was present at the beginning of time and exists beyond our physical world. Different creation myths and religions present a variety of superior powers with certain control over our lives on Earth. In the Christian faith, there is only one, all knowing God who is represented as the Holy Trinity and perceived as a male. In Greek mythology, there are many gods, each representing a different aspect of life. Unlike God in Christianity, they are flawed in the sense that they are essentially human beings with the capability to be jealous, greedy, and wrathful. More different still is the deity of Native American beliefs that is not portrayed as a figure, but as simply a force that inhabits and connects all things, specifically in nature. The Gnostic belief interestingly shares elements from some of the former; there are two levels of divine powers and a strong emphasis on unity. The One is perfection and an indescribable, harmonious blend of everything; quite like an abstract version of God. Beneath this force are aeons, gods who watch over the universe and can make mistakes, similar to Greek gods. Though they believed in equality between genders, Sophia is the main goddess of knowledge and wisdom; and the female forces, unlike the male God, are considered more important spiritually. The different characteristics of divine spirits that are worshipped are reflected in the cultures that they create.

Mythology contains an opposition of good and evil which affects how life is defined in a culture and creates the foundation of a people’s purpose in being. Ultimately, in their lifetimes, people strive for the ‘good’, an idea formed by their beliefs that influences their thoughts and actions. In the Genesis story of Paradise Lost, the original sin cast humans out of the Garden of Eden, and brought labour and suffering to Earth. For Christians, life is a struggle to resist the temptation of Satan and evil of sin, which causes the downfall of man. On the contrary, the Gnostic religion does not believe in sin, only errors, that even the gods are able to make. Gnostics believed that the material world was a mistake and vice lies in the physical matter that the world is made of; the human spirit that is perfect and what is significant in life. In Native American pantheism, there is no definite line of good and evil, but rather a balance of all things in life, both living and inanimate. The world as a whole is venerated and humans must live not in superiority, but in harmony with nature. In Greek mythology, the gods have total control of one’s fate; not necessarily that people cannot make choices, but that the actions of humans cannot manipulate the destiny that awaits them. People are simply the pawns of the gods and follow the paths that were predestined for them. Mythology creates different attitudes towards life that form cultures with varying views of the role humans play in their world.

The inevitability and ambiguity of death is frightening and caused people to develop a belief that there was something beyond the physical that is preserved at the end of a mortal’s life. Religion creates a multitude of ideas regarding the saving of one’s soul and life after death. In the nature oriented Native American faith, life is a cycle which death is merely a part of; because the souls of all beings share a bond, a person’s spirit never dies but rather becomes a part of all things. In Christianity, after death, a person faces judgment based on his doings in life, and his soul is either saved into heaven, or sent to be tortured in hell. In Greek mythology, a similar process occurs in the underworld, where souls are judged to be saved or condemned. In both these cases, people’s actions on Earth determine the fate of their valuable souls; life is a short and linear period of time to prove oneself for the outcome of eternity. There is judgment in the Gnostic faith as well, but not of the same finality; punishment for the soul is to be reincarnated, and reward to be free from the bounds of the material world. Unlike Christians, Gnostics do not bear the heavy weight of sin and penance to achieve salvation, but seek gnosis to be enlightened in their lives. In Homo Religiosis, an experience brings out inner knowledge and understanding that one always had but was not aware of and instantaneously transforms a boy into a man. Gnostics believed similarly that all human spirits possess knowledge within that when accessed allows the soul to return to its perfect state in freedom and harmony with The One. In our modern world where atheism is growing, distinct cultures and beliefs are perishing because they blend into a norm. Science has replaced the role of mythology in explaining then unanswerable questions and technology has become a global culture. Looking back on ancient myths, it is easy to feel a loss for the diversity of cultures that flourished and are now disappearing in our modern day culture.

Published from November 22, 2011.

Thanks for reading,
thebookybunhead

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Romeo and Juliet Essay: Themes in ballet and play

Romeo and Juliet
Comparative Paragraphs

The rebirth of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in Kenneth Macmillan’s ballet version of this classic love story shows how ideas are expressed differently by poetry and movement. Comparing the two pieces helps us appreciate the beauty of both art forms. Emotions can be very strongly portrayed in a ballet; the physicality and pureness of a body’s movement can present abstract ideas in a more human and touching way than in words. On the other hand, poetry engages our creativity and shows abstract ideas by transferring complex thoughts and pictures into our heads. In the ballet, a scene taking place in Juliet’s bedroom incorporates many events including what would have been Act 4 Scene 1 in the play. These scenes show the varying interpretations of this rich work and reveal the strengths of both the drama and the ballet.

Juliet’s refusal to marry Paris in what was originally Friar Lawrence’s cell is powerfully expressed in a pas de deux that portrays her emotions very clearly by using her whole body. Movement magnifies her expression; she shows rather than speaks to Paris that she will not marry him; while music and setting enhance the scene. In the script, she politely hints using double entendre to Paris that she will not marry, whereas in the pas deux she is very obviously showing her attitude towards marriage by keeping a soulless facial expression and her body rigid throughout the dance. The exact choreography is repeated from Juliet’s charming first meeting with Paris but performed with very different quality and intention, which reminds us of the change that occurred when Juliet met Romeo. Prokofiev’s beautiful music can be interpreted as a love theme, but as Juliet is unwillingly continuing the dance, the music becomes more dramatic and makes the scene more frantic. Setting this dance in Juliet’s bedroom in front of her parents also adds tension to this scene. In conclusion, this pas de deux expresses Juliet’s act of defiance and emotions in a much bigger way than words through body language.

Capulet’s anger is thoroughly expressed through words in a way that movement cannot. The scene is full of ideas which not only advances the plot; but reveals attitude and creates imagery. The vocabulary, phrasing, and punctuation that are presented by voice show his absolute rage at hearing the news:

How, how, how how, chopt-logic? What is this?

‘Proud’, and ‘I thank you’, and ‘I thank you not’,

And yet ‘not proud’, mistress minion you?

Thank me no thankings, nor proud me no prouds,

But fettle your fine joints ‘gainst Thursday next,

To go with Paris to Saint Peter’s Church,

Or I will drag thee on a hurdle thither.

Out, you green sickness carrion! Out, you baggage!

You tallow face! (3. 1. 149-157)

Lord Capulet’s mocking and insults are so flustered that his anger can look comical, which plays with the feel of the scene; however, it is clear that Juliet has a very serious problem. His reaction towards her refusal reveals the importance of marriage in the renaissance society; it was based on social status, not love. His harsh words paint grave images of Juliet on the streets or being “dragged… on a hurdle”; creating a glimpse of a possible future. Through movement, Capulet’s rage is difficult to express because his speech is effective through our own mind’s thoughts and pictures. For example, the individual words in the insults “green sickness carrion” and “tallow face” cannot be expressed in a ballet, while the idea of his disgust can. In the ballet, Lord Capulet acts coldly towards his daughter and then leaves. His act of abandonment is fast and dramatic, but does not show his thoughts and character in the way that words do.

The last farewell is expressed effectively through both movement and poetry. Both forms reflect on the passion of their love and their desperate situation while enriching each other by their strengths. Romeo and Juliet’s pas de deux is visually brilliant; dynamic lifts and beautiful steps that freely travel the stage show their young love. Again, as the music grows stronger, the choreography gets bigger; increasing the intensity of their movements and portraying a growing passion and sadness. Their conversation in the script comparing the lark and the nightingale again shows their love and reluctance to part, while also showing a playful side in their argument. Juliet insists that it is still night, so Romeo plays along, “Let me be tame, let me be put to death… I’ll say yon grey is not the morning’s eye, ‘Tis but the pale reflex of Cynthia’s brow…” (3.5. 17-20) There is imagery and slight sarcasm to his words that lightens the mood temporarily; however, his words also advance the script in a darker direction. In comparison to their balcony pas de deux in Act 2 Scene 2, this one, taking place in the bedroom, is more dramatic; which expresses their longing to stay together in the changing situation and their growth in maturity. The script also shows these changes when the mood turns urgent as Juliet realizes the time of day and later states, “Methinks I see thee now, thou art so low, as one dead in the bottom of a tomb…” (3.5.55-56) which again shows the struggle of their love and brings their sadness further into the future. Both the ballet and the script strongly express Romeo and Juliet’s passion and misfortune; and present the light and darker feelings of this scene.

In conclusion, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is expressed beautifully by both movement and poetry. They portray ideas differently; one through the body, and one through the voice; but both express this loved story like the masterpiece that it is.

Published from March 14, 2011.

Thanks for reading,
thebookybunhead

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Romeo and Juliet: Ballet Review

Love at first sight. (Applies to that dress as well. )

When I attended the world premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s Romeo and Juliet last year, I was blown away. My viewing this past Friday was not as exhilarating – I’m sure the fact that it wasn’t my first viewing had something to do with it – but I am definitely still a fan. The tale of two star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, is not necessarily my favourite Shakespearean play, but definitely holds a special place in my heart, and this new ballet is no exception.

Creating another version of an existing ballet is risky, but especially when both Kenneth Macmillan’s and John Cranko’s own Romeo and Juliet are still performed today and considered classics by many. So Ratmansky cleverly avoided comparison altogether, with a production that is fresh, exuberant, and with unique style. I would still call it a classical work, but with undertones in the choreography, costumes, and sets of modern movements and abstract concepts that really set this ballet apart.

One word to describe this ballet is vibrant. Bright colours, dynamic movements, and -oh my goodness- the music! I am at a loss for words to describe just how amazing the score is. It tells the story in itself with strong and endearing themes that are so enjoyable to listen to, and if you’re sitting high enough to see the orchestra pit, it would be a ballet with a symphony concert experience too. Thank you, Mr. Prokofiev. Ratmansky has also unleashed his creativity with mind-bogglingly acrobatic passes and clever details that make us fall in love with the characters and the world created for us.

Costume choices such as these headresses are strange and delightful at the same time. (Image courtesy of http://www.thecoveteur.com/)

Storytelling can be under-appreciated sometimes, but here I must mention it because in addition to traditional mime were some very innovative techniques. For example, when Romeo meets Juliet they do not dance together but with their partners. While everyone is traveling around a circle, the pair are lifted into the air, spinning around as the rest of the party, but ‘spotting’ or turning their heads constantly to find the other. Similarly, after the death of Mercutio, Romeo’s rage is interrupted by a vision of Juliet (who has slipped onstage to be lifted above a crowd, reaching out to him), reminding of the consequences in dueling Tybalt-who-is-now-family, and giving the audience a peek into the protagonist’s thoughts. Another sweet effect is when the plan using the potion is explained. Behind a scrim, the scene of Juliet falling asleep, being deemed as deceased, and reuniting with Romeo is played by her double as both Juliet and the friar sit watching, as if with the audience. Here, we don’t imagine, but know exactly what the friar is telling Juliet; it’s neat as entire plots or speeches cannot always be so clearly expressed through movement.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed the entire ballet, I do have my favourite parts. Generally, they are all the pas de deux’s, especially the balcony scene, but in this particular show my choices are different (I will explain why later). The trio of Romeo, Benvolio, and Mercutio has a very fun section showing genuine friendship and kidding around which really builds them up as the good guys. Mercutio’s character is probably my favourite because of its whimsicality and mischievousness (maybe also because he was my role in our abridged grade 9 production of the play). Similarly, the carnival men that entertain in the town square add brightness to the tragedy, and gives the dancers a chance to show off some impressive tricks and turns. Overall, what was really impressive this night was the solidarity of the corps de ballet who danced as the people of Verona. At the beginning of the first act, I felt tears in my eyes over the grief of the women for their fallen husbands. Yet I did not feel this much emotion for the deaths of our hero and heroine…

Mercutio the clown is very charming and catches everyone’s attention; his personality shines through in his solos.

At this point you may be wondering why I have not commented on the love story; it is called Romeo and Juliet after all, isn’t it? Let me explain. Both Romeo and Juliet are great dancers and presented their characters well; however, I did not feel much chemistry between them. Something that was a bit distracting was the fact that in the first portion of the ballet, I was aware of Juliet acting the sweet, young, girl. The ballerina is very experienced and maybe it was this maturity that did not fit perfectly with internalizing the character. That being said, in an unfortunate incident Romeo became injured and after pushing through was replaced by another dancer for the last two acts. It made it hard to examine continuity, so all I can say is, for such an abrupt change, it was well done.

One of the funniest moments in the performance was not meant to be funny at all. In the scene where the Juliet’s parents open the curtains of her bed to find that she has died, Lord Capulet fails to fasten the fabric securely to a bed post. As they crouch in front of the bed, mourning over Juliet’s inanimate body, the curtain swings closed onto their heads (and blocking the audience’s view), ruining what was truly a sad and touching moment. The father tries to refasten it, hold it up with his hand, and when all fails, finally stands up and leans on it with his whole body. When the bed rolls offstage, the long fabric clings to Lord Capulet and peels of his wig at the very last moment. Silent laughter in our row for a good half minute, I think.

The third act was the best part of the night for me, despite an accidental comedic discovery of Juliet’s ‘death’.

Romeo and Juliet by Ratmansky has only had a life span of one year, and it is definitely one that I want to see again. There were some things I liked more now, and some things I enjoyed more last year – every live show is different so this is often the case. What I saw last Friday was not spectacular, but it was good. The company’s previous Cranko version of the production still holds the spot for making me bawl my eyes out, and Macmillan’s for my favourite recording of the ballet; Ratmansky’s neoclassical version definitely has a place of its own. I appreciate and love all the productions, classical and neoclassical, and I’m sure Shakespeare would too.

EXTRAS:
If you have never heard this score, you must. Just have a listen to this opening theme (skip to about a minute in), and enjoy the rest of this medley, if you want:

The Royal Ballet (Rojo and Acosta) in my favourite balcony pas de deux:

All photographs courtesy of Bruce Zinger for The National Ballet of Canada, otherwise noted.

Thanks for reading,
thebookybunhead

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Homo Religiosis: Hunting rituals and religion

In the Paleolithic age, a young boy is transformed into adulthood overnight through a terrifying process in the underground tunnels of Lascaux. Through fear, isolation, and the use of images, the experience allows him to recognize his powers and comprehend his purpose in life. He must face frightening ordeals such as traveling through a cramped tunnel in total darkness, being incarcerated and buried in the earth, and told that he would be eaten by a monster. The terror he experiences forces him to discover the inner strengths and resources that he was unaware existed within. Completely alone, he becomes conscious of his being and gains an understanding of life and death. Being stripped from everything familiar he knew above ground, he finds independence, and “is pushed into a new state of consciousness that enables him to appreciate the profound bonds that links hunter and prey in their common struggle for survival.” When the images of the cave are revealed, the boy is enlightened, both literally and spiritually; the artwork triggers timeless human emotions and thoughts that complete his initiation. The experience a young initiate undergoes gives him new knowledge, changing him into a man that is ready to hunt with sacred respect and sacrifice himself for his people.

Our religious experiences today are different because of our changing culture and needs. Our way of life has changed dramatically, and so has our society’s relationship to religion. The hunt sustained the ancient peoples, and so, to value and respect life was an essential part of their spiritual being. Today our world is sustained by money and production; our concerns no longer revolve around survival, but focus on consumerism. Our emotional response to the killing of animals and death are indifferent because we do not have understanding of those subjects on a personal level. The hunting rituals have lost their power in meaning because they are irrelevant to our cares and culture. The personal ties that the ancient peoples had in their respect for nature we now have for our technology and communication devices. An adolescent needs time to “find himself” today amongst the many choices and distractions around him, rather than “going into the tunnel” and searching for answers within. In our very busy world, personal reflection is difficult to experience and our identities are created, and our values dictated, by the technology and images around us. Primarily, religion has diminished because its importance to our being has been replaced by the many things that we can buy.

At the time, I did not realize that Homo Religiosis is a theory, not an essay, so if I find the work that this was inspired by or you happen to recognize it, please comment or link. This was written in 2011, and interestingly, after completely forgetting about it, I realize the content of a biology essay I wrote this year is very similar. My ideas have changed and developed since and I think it might be interesting to compare the two, so the other may be published in the future…

Thanks for reading,
-thebookybunhead

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