“My Gracious Silence”

I watched the Hiddlestone Coriolanus a few nights ago, and was enthralled. It is an excellent production, from casting to staging, as Terpsichore described. (Seriously, how does a dirt-grimed man moving a chair look so attractive?)

Coriolanus is a grand tragedy of political and personal dimensions and revolving around several very forceful, very egotistic, and very vocal characters. Caius Macius Coriolanus is the manliest of men, (especially when played by Hiddlestone,) but cannot bend his (flawed) convictions to curry political favor. His bossy mother Volumnia claims responsibility for her son’s martial prowess, and lives up to her name.

But in this version, my attention was caught by the quiet, peace-loving wife, Virgilia.

This Virgilia is only vocally silent.

 

In their first scene together,  Coriolanus address his wife as “my gracious silence”. This phrase has always captured my attention, mostly because that adjective lends a warmth and power to a quality that is often overlooked or criticized. But this title often translates into a negative portrayal of the character.

Virgilia has barely 26 lines, in the whole play, none of which are particularly poignant or important. This title and her own words combined mark her a passive character, waiting for the action of others to determine her fate, ruled by her voluble mother-in-law, and cloistering herself inside wait for her husband. (It is the mother-in-law, Volumnia, who lives up to her name with some of the most rhetorically powerful speeches in the play.)

In Shakespeare, the character reveal themselves trough their speeches almost more than their actions, particularly as Shakespeare included few stage directions. A character with few lines often fades into the background. Yet in this production, Virgilia’s silence is not taken to be complete inaction.

She might be silent in part because it is impossible to speak when Volumnia holds forth. But in a play where there is increasing tension between honest speech and “fair words”, it is notable that Virgilia repeatedly chooses to hold her silence.

Volumnia urges Coriolanus to,

” . . .  speak
To the people; not by your own instruction,
Nor by the matter which your heart prompts you,
But with such words that are but rooted in
Your tongue, though but bastards and syllables
Of no allowance to your bosom’s truth. ” (2232-2236)

And when Coriolanus complies, Virgilia becomes almost mute. When his inability to make the bastard words credible destroys him, Virgilia (in this version) only kisses him farewell.

It is not passivity that silences Virgilia;  it is words themselves that fail her.

Corrupt language is what destroyed her husband.  At several points she can only issue broke cries of, “oh heavens, oh heavens!”, as if words themselves cannot hold depth of her heartache (2533).  She is almost choking on her words, as if to articulate them would derive them of reality. Speeches would only make her agony seem trite, so she carries them quietly.

Shakespeare, the word master, has crafted excruciating monologues of pain, so it is strange that he gives Virgilia such silence. Yet his use of silence is not uncommon; “silence is the perfectest herald of joy”, declares Claudio, the false lover. Although Claudio’s joy falters, it might well be that silence heralds a great many other interior movements.

This version of the play lets Virgilia’s actions speak more poignantly than all of Volumnia’s syllables. Her love for her husband is clear in every gesture, and need to no other articulation. Her lack of speech is not empty, but it itself as powerful as Menelius’ smooth persuasions. She is truly Coriolanus’s “gracious silence”.

 

 

Silence

 

 

 

 

The Egotist’s Club Turns Three!

We are ancient. At least in blog years. But it has been a good three years. We have laughed, we have cried, we have rhapsodized, and we have slacked off. Unfortunately, the pressure of being an adult in an adult world seems to sap our cognitive and scribbling strength. But we have been doing better lately, haven’t we?

It was an eccentric, but delightful partnership between Thalia and myself that began this blog. (The story is related here.) It was in part as a challenge to practice writing (haha) and in part as an outlet for snark and craziness. We have matured and grown in wisdom since then, moving onto grander flights of fancy and deeper plunges into melancholy than ever before. Sometimes we chose to share these with you, and sometimes we did not. Consider that to be both a blessing and a curse.

And as we approach middle-age-blogdom, it is time to reflect on all the changes that have happened in our lifespan. So, it the last three years:

Continue reading

Latin Word of the Day: A Story

I have been ridiculously jealous of my northern sistren who are enjoying the beauty and grandeur of Winter’s Blessing: SNOW.

I might not miss the driving conditions or the car troubles, but I miss the tingling feeling of life and beauty and purity that cold and snow inspire. While I have been trying to sympathize with all the winter mishaps that Thalia and Terpsichore have, I have been heartsore and homesick for a good, old-fashioned white snow.

This week Dallas has been enduring a cold and wind like the harbinger of an apocalypse. By which I mean, 30 degrees with a wind chill of 12. Weather Channels warned that there was a slight chance of precipitation, (around 13%,) and that precipitation might turn into snow.

Yesterday, my 7th graders asked if I would let them play in the snow. I laughed, and promised them that if it snowed, I would require them to make snow angels. They cheered.

Guess what was happening this morning?

SNOW WAS COMING DOWN IN DALLAS, TX.

Even before classes, my 7th graders were trying to catch my eye and mouth, “SNOW! Outside, right?” I just grinned at them.

By the second period, the snow was sticking and word had spread about my rash promise, and I had to strike a deal with the Freshman Latin Class: if they finished correcting homework sentences and reviewing vocabulary, they could have the rest of the period to play in the snow.

I have never seen them work so hard or fast. Usually I draw random names for boardwork translations, but today almost everyone “volunteered as tribute”. A few even had to fight it out (with rock-paper-scissors) over doing a sentence. They had a good 20 minutes of skating around the frosty parking lot and trying to throw powdery snow at each other.

My 7th graders were next – and they finished the classroom work in under 20 minutes. Of course, few of them had not thought to wear appropriate coats, so they had a strict if-you-get-wet-you-will-not-complain warning. They didn’t mind.

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For kids who have never played in snow before, they got the idea of it pretty quickly! The first 5 minutes or so were spent marveling at the perfect shapes of the snowflakes. Seriously, every single one cam running over to show me a big fluffy flake and gasp over the beauty, and wonder over the incredible detail that God put into each snowflake. (Their words, not mine.) I love these kids.

And then the snowball fights and snow angels and snow-skating began in earnest. The sheer joy and exhilaration was contagious. One of the girls ran up proudly to show me the snowball that she had made, and then earnestly asked my advice on at whom she should throw it. The boys proceeded to chase after each other like middle school boys.

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By lunch the roads were so bad that we had early dismissal. On the 7 miles between school and home, I slid into two intersection and passed three accidents. Winter Mishap Quota: check.

Right now I am curled up with a mug of soup, enjoying the sensation of cold toes, and watching the light reflected off snow shine on my ceiling. One of my students did give me fuzzy socks for Christmas . . . where did I put those?

But before leaving, I gave my students one last thing: a Latin Word of the Day.

Nix, nicis


SNOW

The Lost Formality of Letter Writing

Dear Friends and Lovers,

When I was in grade school, (not sure which grade: homeschool years all blend together,) my writing book had a section on the formal writing of letters. Each letter must have a heading, a greeting, a body full of either chatty anecdotes, witty quips, or occasional fulsome gratitude, and then a formal close and farewell. I had to write fake letter after fake letter until my teacher-mom was satisfied, and I could move onto the next unit. The main interest of the exercise was to relieve the dreariness of 5-sentence paragraph writing.

As I progressed in my studies and pretentiousness, various examples of epistles came before me: Daddy-Long-Legs, Mr. Darcy’s letter,  Woman in White, and the correspondence of the Mr. and Mrs. Adams. Each gave me an idea of how to write an organized, proper and, most importantly, interesting letter.

My favorite example of a formal letter comes from C.S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian. High King Peter dictates a challenge to King Miraz, a document wreathed in formal titles, archaic phrasing, and righteous with cool confidence. I modeled quite a few missives after Peter’s, finding obscure titles for myself and the intended recipient and couching every term in as medieval an accent as I could conjure.

But the age of email dawned, and there are now few calls for the formality of letters. And that lack of pen and paper seems to encourage casual correspondence.

Recently I have had the dubious honor of being on the receiving end of a few formal communications. Or rather, they were short queries from students that should have been formal.

I know for a fact that the grade school students at my school learn and practice letter writing. Yet through either the strange and laid back aura of the interwebs, or the lazy and rebellious disease that attacks middle and high schoolers, my students cannot formulate a proper email. Granted, their questions and requests are usually brief and quickly dispatched.

But I would have died before I sent an email to my professors with the greeting “hey”. Not me name or a proper address, just “hey”.

As a teacher, I also highly recommend using correct capitalization and punctuation in all communiques with a teacher. Yet many students neglect this simple strategy of currying favoring. (Or at least non-ill-will.)

But my biggest pet peeve, pulled from almost all student emails, is lack of a close to the email. Yes, I know that your name and address appears in my inbox. No, I don’t need your signature to know who you are. But typing out “sincerely, yours” brings the whole note to an easy, pleasant completion. An empty space at the end of an email feels unbalanced, disordered, impolite, cheeky insolent . . . etc.

So, dear readers, kindred spirits, erudite partakers of tea and enlightenment, think twice before snapping at a student for insolence sending an email. The Person the other end might be judging you in need of the old world formalities to alleviate her cynicism.

With the utmost gratitude, sincerity, and snarky sermonizing,

Melpomene
Muse of Tragedy, Lady of Melancholy,  Loamer of Egotists, Companion of Nienna, Teacher of Sarcasm, Magistra, Queen of the Classroom, Non-Answerer of Informal Emails, Poetess extraordinaire, and Instigator of Havoc

Happy Birthday to J.R.R. Tolkien!

Today, being the Twelvity-First birthday of J.R.R. Tolkien, must be celebrated. So get out your tankards, pipes, and dragon-related paraphernalia (a word hoard word my students gleaned from The Hobbit) and prepare to party!

Today is a genuine Hobbit-Approved feast day. It is also the last official day of Christmas break, which means that you need no other excuse to have fun.

Some suggestions for activities (best done in a gathering of kindred spirits):

  • Read “Leaf By Niggle“, one of the most intriguing little myths written by Tolkien. It is not set in Middle Earth, but is fascinating none the less.
  • Go to the local pub, smoke a pipe, and make a new friend.
  • Pour beer (or prefered beverage) into a tankard, and raise a glass to the Inklings.
  • Make and eat a seed cake! (I cheat and just add poppy seeds to a cake mix.)
  • Read aloud from the Hobbit, favorite chapter of LotR, or other Tolkien work.
  • Have everyone share their favorite Tolkien quote.
  • Bring in a piece of poetry/story to share with everyone.
  • Everyone brings a written work of their own to share and discuss a ala The Inklings.
  • Everyone toasts Tolkien with afore-mentioned tankards.
  • Organize a treasure hunt base loosely on a Middle-Earth quest.
  • Just go on a quest in your neighborhood. You never know what adventures will befall you.
  • Take a walk on a local road. You never know where it will take you.
  • Play Middle Earth Risk/Trivial Pursuit etc.
  • Smuggle whiskey into the theater to watch The Hobbit, and take a drink every time something non-canonical happens.
  • Grow a beard.
  • Braid said beard in a dwarf-approved pattern.
  • Read Beowulf in the original Old English. (OK, you can read a translation, if you must.)
  • Say a prayer for the repose of Tolkien’s soul.
  • Do something similar to my plan for seeing The Hobbit but with the Lord of the Rings and in your own living room.

Er, your should probably replace the suggested whiskey in the above activities with tea. Or at least alternate drinking tea and whiskey. Or put whiskey in your tea.  Also, if you cannot grow a beard (like me and my sister muses, for example,) you can get an awesome beard hat on Etsy. So enjoy every part of today to the fullest, and be as awesome as would be if you were partying with Tolkien!

And if you are as shackled as I am, (grading Finals is worse than taking them,) we can have an online party here! Post your favorite Tolkien quote, story, or photo below, and be ready to discuss and party!

Happy New Year!

Advent-wreaths from 123gifs.eu

Advent Sunday, or the first day of Advent, is the first day of the new Liturgical year in Catholic Calender. (Many orthodox Christian religions observe this as a well.) The story of salvation begins again, to be retold from Christ’s birth, through his death, resurrection, and the beginnings of the church.

Advent (which means “the coming”) is time of preparing for the first momentous event: Jesus’s birthday. It is also a mini-Lent, to give us a specific time and occasion to deepen the habit of self-giving.

By now, there s a radio station in every town that is playing non stop Christmas songs, which will persist in making us all sick of jingle bells, right up until the day after Christmas when all music and decoration will mysteriously disappear. This is all part of an odd conspiracy to celebrate holidays before they actually happen.

The actual “Twelve Days of Christmas” start on Christmas and last until Epiphany on January 6th, but very few people seem to realize that. One of my professors who had grown up in the Deep South told me there is a superstition that bad luck will haunt the house that leaves up Christmas Decorations on the day after Christmas. She said that this tradition was born out of distaste for anything smacking of “popery” or “high church”.

As the token Papist here, I would like to challenge that superstition. I am busting out my mad Advent wreath making skills, (yes, those candles are glued to a plate with gorilla glue,) and saving my mini plastic tree until Christmas. And I will leave it up until Epiphany! (If anything bad happens to me, I promise to let you know.)

So let’s bring back actual Advent: filled with patience, charity, and delayed gratification! I promise that it will make Christmas so much sweeter! Unlike Lent, we can say the “A” word, (alleluia,) but it does helps to have real Advent music. Ecce! Go forth and prepare!

And in case you  need a breath of Christmassy cheer and reminder of what we are REALLY preparing for, watch the bets Christmas pageant ever performed.

Belated Acceptance Speech

It has come to our attention that We Have Been Nominated For An Award. Back in June. I humbly beg pardon for focussing on life in the real world for a while.

It is the “prestigiously obscure” Liebster Award, and we have been tagged by David at the Warden’s Walk. Thank you David! Apparently this award serves to raise awareness for the under-read but most deserving of blogs. Specifically, blogs that have under 200 followers and their own brand of awesomeness.

The criteria for fulfilling this nomination (and passing into the final round? receiving the award? who judges this?) are as follows:

  • Talk about ourselves
  • Answer the questions provided by the nominator
  • Nominate and provide questions for other candidates

On behalf of all the egotistical muses here, I appoint myself as the representative.  If my sister muses object, they will have to answer, nominate and query for themselves. Continue reading

Review Part 1: Disney’s Frozen

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Did you read The Snow Queen? It is my favorite Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales. And I grew up on fairy tales: Andrew Lang’s books, many beautiful picture books, and sundry collections of various folklore! (For some reason, Grimm’s fairy tales were not so big in my home. It might have been the R rating most of the originals have.)

Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”, is a tale of true love saving an icy heart through hard work and sacrifice. I loved the edition my family had, as it was gorgeously illustrated, highlighting the sharp, biting beauty of Ice and Snow.

 

When I heard that Disney was “reimagining” Andersen’s tale, I was both worried and intrigued. Frozen premiered yesterday, and my housemate and I went to see it.

And I like it. Maybe more than “like”. The more I think about it, it gets higher on my list of favorite movies. I want to share it with people I love.  Starting with you. You should go see Frozen.

It is not perfect by any means, so I am wary of overselling.  But I need to talk about it! My compromise is to make a list of pros and cons for the movie. (If you are fearful of spoilers, read carefully. A few might slip in.)

 

The Story

Cons: It is not the original Andersen story. There are significant changes, mainly shifting the focus from a boy-girl pair to a pair of sisters.

Pros: It works. The heart of the story is figuring out what True Love is, and removing the possibility of romantic mushy feelings from the central pair certainly crystallizes our definition. 

 

The Plot

Cons: There are a few holes. Mainly, the sudden ability to control magical icy powers.

Pros: The holes are not in important parts. The magical abilities are a part of the setting, not the focus. And the story telling does a good job of making that clear.

 

The Art

Cons: It is a cartoon. Which means round faces and unlikely body proportions for all living things. Maybe I am spoiled, but I expect animated characters to make better use of  facial expressions.

Pros: It is a cartoon. Which means stunning closeups of snowflakes an ice and an ICE PALACE that will take away your breath. (Not to mention an ice dress.) And there are a few good faces. Also, there is a pretty scene of Anna imitating classical works of art that are hung around her palace.

 

 

The Music

Cons: It is not the Lion King. Or Prince of Egypt.

Pros: HARMONY! CHOIRS! SOARING NOTES! Songs than capture the moment and plot and emotions! Background music that works with the story so well I barely noticed it! Melodies that work with the lyrics, lyrics that appreciate pretty words! (“Frozen fractals”!!!)  But seriously, how long has it been since Disney actually used harmony and choirs? And lyrics that have united and developed the narrative themes and motifs? You can listen for yourself, if you wish.

 

Our Protagonist Sisters

Cons:  . . . . None

Pros: SISTERS! Their relationship is the center of the story, and . . . I can’t say more without spoilers. I really want my own sisters now.

 

The Side Characters

Cons: There is an annoying talking snowman named Olaf.

Pros: Other than Olaf, all the side characters are excellently crafted, acted, and used. Each has a purpose AND a personality. Even the snowman. (Supposedly he is the personification of the sisterly bond. But he is still annoying.)

The Wit

Cons: Not so witty. There is a tad bit of mild potty humor. And the kind of things that 5-year-olds find funny.

Pros: Fortunately, it has enough substance that it doesn’t need wit.

 

The Villain

Cons: There is no villain! There is a cad, but he is easily spotted, serves an important narrative purpose, and get his boring comeuppance.

Pros: There is no villain! Our two protagonist sisters face a true battle against FEAR. Yes, the real opposite of love is not hate, but fear. And this movie states that baldly. Which brings us to . . .

 

The Subtlety

Cons: Frozen has the subtlety of a sledgehammer. The themes, motifs and morals are so obvious, a five-year-old can identify them. Even the humor has big, blinking arrows pointing to it. (Not literally. But it may as have have.)

Pros: A five-year-old can identify the themes. Does a good fairy tale need subtlety? I have spent years looking at the art of literature, savoring the delicate images and tastes of humanity and truth. I appreciate those, but I recognize that sometimes bluntness is needed.

It is almost as if Disney is trying to reverse years of overly mushy ideas of romance and impractical ideas of love in one movie. It has the same theme as all real, important, fairy tales: True Love. It even correctly identifies the true opposite of love as fear! (I really can’t get over that.) The motifs (storms, doors, creation vs. control, etc.) are well chosen and well used.

To be fair, our modern society has stopped using or understanding  subtlety well. Those who do look for subtlety are the academics, most of whom tend to read their own insane symbols and agendas into the work. The frankness of Frozen does forestall this misunderstanding or misinterpretations.

While Frozen might have appealed to a more adult audience had it used subtlety, it adheres to the structure of old fairy tales and is accessible to all ages. It is blunt, but I can forgive that when it is blunt about Truth and gives the theological definition of love.

The Theology

Cons: Shockingly, there are no cons. There was a moment when I thought there might be, but then the characters very helpfully and carefully explained themselves, and all was well.

Pros: There must have been a solid Christian crafting this story. It is possible for  clever and thoughtful agnostic to have written it, but my instinct says otherwise. This movie not dares to ask and answer the question “what is love?” Their answer (as closely as I can remember) is “Love is wanting what is good for another person, and acting on it no matter what the cost for another person“. What does the Catholic Catechism say about love?  “To love is to will the good of another.’” Brilliant.

And because there is no subtlety, they even point out the in-movie examples. Just in case we missed them. But the examples are good, realistic, and, like all good theology, filled with common sense.

 

Conclusion

In his chapter, the Ethics of Elfland, G.K. Chesterton describes a fairy tale as being built on common sense and the ideals of eternal Truth and Reality. Frozen does fit this definition: it adhere to its internal logic, and is surprisingly well rooted in common sense. The characters ring true as portraits of humanity. The story is well crafted, if obvious, and holds fast to the heart of all good stories: love and sacrifice.

In short, go see Frozen.

And then come back and discuss it with me! When I have had time to percolate ideas, I will come back and expand on the themes and story telling. As obvious as it is, it might be a good teaching tool to point all those literary devices!