“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”.









It is a soft, slightly gloomy day out, and no one around here revels in that but me.  The morning drizzle has left a few puddles and a cloudy sky behind.  All is rather grey, but a gentle breeze blows on the melting snows, much warmer than the winds of weeks past.  Walking around outside, I caught a scent of something sweet like pipe smoke.  Some ice still lingers, but stepping on it splinters and crushes it into slush.

This is some of my favorite weather, I think; it is above all calm and quiet.  No beams of sunlight stab the eyes or glare off virgin snow.  It’s not quite warm enough or green enough to register as spring, and so it most resembles October: the month of gallivanting through the woods or by lakes and streams.

Thus there is a northernness about it: a lie, because I am no further north than I was yesterday, but a claim made by right; the rain has reminded the streets and trees and air of the world beyond these buildings and this town, and issued its muted invitation to go forth and explore it.

P Stands for Paddy, I Suppose

It is St. Patrick’s Day!

So it’s the official day of reading, praying, or singing The Lorica of St. Patrick.

It is, somewhat less officially, the day of wearing the green, pledging with the claddaugh, listening to uilleann pipes, watching step dancers, drinking beer, sipping whiskey, eating potatoes and corned beef, etc., etc.

Reveling in some W. B. Yeats is a delicious part of this balanced breakfast celebration of Eire.  Here are a few poems of his:

The Wheel

Through winter-time we call on spring,
And through the spring on summer call,
And when abounding hedges ring
Declare that winter’s best of all;
And after that there s nothing good
Because the spring-time has not come -
Nor know that what disturbs our blood
Is but its longing for the tomb.

Into the Twilight

Out-worn heart, in a time out-worn,
Come clear of the nets of wrong and right;
Laugh, heart, again in the grey twilight,
Sigh, heart, again in the dew of the morn.

Your mother Eire is always young,
Dew ever shining and twilight grey;
Though hope fall from you and love decay,
Burning in fires of a slanderous tongue.

Come, heart, where hill is heaped upon hill:
For there the mystical brotherhood
Of sun and moon and hollow and wood
And river and stream work out their will;

And God stands winding His lonely horn,
And time and the world are ever in flight;
And love is less kind than the grey twilight,
And hope is less dear than the dew of the morn.

The Song of Wandering Aengus

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

In Pursuit of the Obvious

In the course of writing last night’s post, I struggled to corral my thoughts so as to share them in an orderly fashion.  But these other quotations express a little bit more on the subject, so I wanted to share them too.


I am the man who with the utmost daring discovered what had been discovered before. If there is an element of farce in what follows, the farce is at my own expense; for this book explains how I fancied I was the first to set foot in Brighton and then found I was the last. It recounts my elephantine adventures in pursuit of the obvious. No one can think my case more ludicrous than I think it myself; no reader can accuse me here of trying to make a fool of him: I am the fool of this story, and no rebel shall hurl me from my throne.  – GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Five senses; an incurably abstract intellect; a haphazardly selective memory; a set of preconceptions and assumptions so numerous that I can never examine more than a minority of them – never become even conscious of them all. How much of total reality can such an apparatus let through? – CS Lewis, A Grief Observed

I have the most ill-regulated memory.  It does those things which it ought not to do and leaves undone the things it ought to have done.  But it has not yet gone on strike altogether.  – Lord Peter Wimsey, Gaudy Night

I see that the life of this place is always emerging beyond expectation or prediction or typicality, that it is unique, given to the world minute by minute, only once, never to be repeated. And this is when I see that this life is a miracle, absolutely worth having, absolutely worth saving. We are alive within mystery, by miracle.  – Wendell Berry, Life is a Miracle: An Essay Against Modern Superstition

Listening to The Sound of Silence

Originally I was going to muse in a distressingly solipsistic fashion about writing and reality.  I might do so yet, but Internetland has informed me that it’s the fiftieth anniversary of the release of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel’s tune “The Sound of Silence,” so.  Priorities.

My brother Mark and I reckoned it was a fine time to listen to that song, and (despite its later debut date) the Sounds of Silence album.  Sitting wrapped up in afghans in the basement, we sang the first few songs with our mum: the most appropriate company and atmosphere, outside a family road trip.  Having loved every single one of them for some 15 years, I relished harmonizing during each song.

Halfway through “Blessed,” Mum headed upstairs to fetch her original-issue LP*: one of the first albums she owned, she told us.  The sides are taped, but the record’s in good shape by the look of it.  For those of us unaccustomed to records, it might be strange to recall that they have sides, and the first side ends with “Angie” (a guitar piece riffing on “Somewhere They Can’t Find Me”), and the second side starts with “Richard Cory.”

Listening to the album straight through is lovely, and a bit curious: I loved the songs before I was quite old enough to catch all the subtext, so it took me years to recognize how melancholy it all is.  It manages to be rather upbeat, considering it treats the passage of time, the underprivileged, a robbery and the attendant flight from justice, a suicide, a different suicide, an April-September relationship, and a man determined to be an unfeeling island.  It’s not quite Old Blind Dogs level-buoyancy – they can sing about syphilis and the gallows and make it sound cheerful – but there’s a lovely pensiveness to Sounds of Silence which reminded me of Chesterton’s line about the Irish: All their wars are merry, and all their songs are sad.

I’m left wondering whether I would have delighted in the melancholy regardless, or if my listening habits in younger days shaped me to it.  But either way, we’ve got a groovey thing goin’, baby.

Sounds of Silence
*A note on the back of the album cover says “This Columbia high fidelity monaural recording is scientifically designed to play with the highest quality of reproduction on the phonograph of your choice, new or old.  If you are the owner of a new stereophonic system, this record will play with even more brilliant true-to-life fidelity.  In short, you can purchase this record with no fear of its becoming obsolete in the future.”  What a claim!  I admire your pluck, Columbia.

A Toast to Tom

Earlier this month, my housemate Cecilia requested of all and sundry that someone bring Tom Hiddleston to her.  Since none of us have made his acquaintance (and since honor demands that another friend meet him first, should it ever depend on me), the best thing I could offer was a Hiddleston-inspired cocktail.

So we set to work.  The first item of business was asking “If Tom Hiddleston were a drink, what would he be?”  Our Facebook friends were delightfully forthcoming:
            Something proper and classic, but also playful.
            Obviously mead given his asgardian roots.
            It would have to involve gin.
            Something that makes you raise your eyebrows and go ‘daaang’.
            a gin and tonic with extra lime for that dazzle that gives little playful dollop to a classic beverage.
            Something tall and delicious.

The two of us also brainstormed a fair bit: we wanted something classy and elegant, appropriately British, sweet, strong, a little fruity or perhaps a little nutty.  Then Cecilia said “Fun, but with an edge; a little bit crazy,” and I wondered if we were still talking about Tom or if we’d conflated him with his various roles.

Bottles and bottlesand bottles some more

In the end, we decided that the best thing to do was to create a drink based on Tom himself, then a few others based on our favorite characters he’s played.  I hauled bottle after bottle up from the basement, consulting Cecilia on the smell of each spirit and liqueur we proposed to combine.  Here’s what we came up with:

Tom Hiddleston
1.5 oz gin (Beefeater)The Tom Hiddleston
.75 oz St-Germain
.75 oz Pama
Dash orange bitters
Champagne to top in a wineglass (4-5 oz)

Verdict: appropriately sparkling; good and all, but more formal; not quite a pajama party or anything.
We tried adding ½ a tablespoon of Fee’s grenadine.  Adding some sweetness was a good idea, but it turned out to be too much; this whole recipe needs some work.

Loki #1
3 oz champagne
1 oz green crème de menthe
Serve in champagne flute; garnish with mint sprig

Verdict: This was mostly an excuse to use up some champagne as well as the incredibly green crème de menthe.  It’s powerfully minty, which makes it seem boozier than it really is.  It’s not that crazy, but the mint sprig adds the touch of slipping into the drinker’s face, as if to holler “LOKI’D!”

Loki #2
.75 oz green Chartreuse
.5 oz lime juice
.25 oz Maraschino liqueur
.25 oz simple syrup
¼ tsp absinthe
Stir gently and strain into cocktail glass.

Verdict: This is a paler green, but comes much closer to the “crazier than a bag of cats” taste we were going for.  It’s very similar to a Last Word, but removes the gin and adds the anise taste of absinthe.  I was well satisfied.


1.5 oz vodka
.25 oz Campari
.25 oz Amaretto
.25 oz Cherry Heering
.25 oz syrup
Stir in a martial fashion and strain into cocktail glass.  Sip while looking down your nose at the rabble.

Verdict:  It was quite as red as we hoped for; the strength of the vodka, bitterness of the Campari, and some visual allusion to all the blood covering Coriolanus were our chief goals.  In addition, since we were surprised by how sympathetic all the characters were in the Donmar Warehouse production, we added the syrup and liqueurs to make it go down a bit more easily.

Henry V
2 oz Laird’s Old Apple Brandy
1 oz complex syrup*
.7 oz lemon juice 
1 dash old fashioned bitters
Shake, strain, and garnish with a sage leaf.
*Boil a cup or so of sugar and water with sage, thyme, and rosemary for remembrance; strain and cool before use.

Verdict: This is something of a modified Sidecar, made with ingredients that evoked a much more rural England of centuries past.  Cecilia declared that it was “more Kenneth than Tom because of the sourness/bitterness.”  I declared that we had had enough to drink.


…then shall our names, Familiar in his mouth as household words – Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter, Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester – Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d.

Triumph and Transitions

At long last, the time has come.  Victory is MINE!

Which is to say, a year and a half after I should have done so, I finally bought a new(er) car, and some two weeks after I should have done so, I am blogging about it.  Back on the 8th, my Vati and I made our way to Troy where I drove and examined and, in the end, purchased a 2010 Toyota Corolla.  I’m considering calling her Ruby, cliché though the name be.  She is shiny and red and a whopping 16 years newer than the Buick Century…which means there are some changes to get used to.

Here are some of them:

Gear shift placement.  Back in 1994, the gear shift was attached to the steering column, such that one would reach behind the steering wheel to put it in drive etc.  But if I try that now, the wipers will turn on instead.

Traction control.  This is the most unsettling one: if the car starts to slip, some system …um…interferes?  Tries to take my control away?  Makes the car move funny until I remove my foot from the gas?  It sort of makes sense, but it’s also profoundly strange, and kind of unwelcome; the first few days I drove it were particularly icy, lending another layer of discomfort to learning to navigate the novelty.  Add traction control anxiety to new car anxiety to pothole-of-DOOM anxiety, and you have the most nerve-wracking drive I’ve taken yet.

Car payments.  Welcome to adulthood, kid.  This one shouldn’t be a problem, but there was the moment where I misread my statement – which said the first payment was due on March 25th – such that I thought payment was due a month earlier than that.  So…well, I sure got my payment in on time, even if I had some gut-wrenching moments of panic that prompted me to sign up for online payments.

Radio and dashboard.  This was always going to be a change, I guess, but it’s not too bad.  My hand is already learning where to reach to control the heating vents and radio stations.

Putting my cassettes away.  The Buick had a much beloved Billy Joel tape, Turnstiles, in the deck for months.  Now I’ve got a CD player – which, as CDs are getting phased out, means I am still a bit behind the times.  Ah well.  There’s an auxiliary jack as well.  Such novelty, guys, I’m not sure I’m up for it.

Looking for the right car in the parking lot.  So far this has gone better than expected.  It helps that the remote entry works more remotely than the Century’s did (and beeps cutely.  Hooray!)

HEAT.  It still takes a few minutes for the Corolla to heat up in a winter like this, but it’s so much faster than the Century.  Not to mention, there’s such a thing as being overly warm in the car.  I had no idea.

Speed.  The Century could book it, when needed, but there was no way to go over 65, much less 70 or 75, without it whinging a bit.  A kind of growling and shuddering that made everyone in the car recognize how much the car was working.  Now I can just zip along at 80 without noticing.  Whoops!

All in all, it is a lovely change – though I must admit, Dad may be right.  Once I’d purchased it, he said “I think it’ll take years before you love it as much as you loved the Buick.”  Sounds unlikely, given that the Buick essentially cost me nothing and I just put down a heaping chunk of change on this newer car.  But that was the point: there was an essential carelessness to driving the Century, an attitude unbothered by the prospect of minor damages to something so sturdy and so many years old.  I never really thought of the Buick as rugged, but it turns out I drove it that way.  It was a far more masculine vehicle than the sweet lady I have now.  But she’s rather delightful so far!  I think I’ll keep her.

Review: Coriolanus

On Sunday, my roommates and I headed down to the Michigan Theater to see the National Theatre Live broadcast of Coriolanus.

I was a muddle of expectations: on one hand, I expected good things because it had Tom Hiddleston and Mark Gatiss at the very least.  On the other hand, the bits of the play I’d read (or read about) suggested that it involved a lot of politics (bleah) and Coriolanus being a jerk (which…could be interesting, but might just be annoying).  On the other other hand, I’d heard good things from Em about it.

So I went, braced for a bit of gore, some speeches I couldn’t hear very well, the possibility of boredom.


I was blown away.

Why?  The reasons include, but are not limited to, the following:

Set.  We watched it on-screen, of course, but it still had the without-a-net feeling live theater gives – no editing, nothing between you and the players.  The set was spare: a red wall with graffiti projected on it, a ladder, some chairs.  Some explanation was given beforehand about the effects they sought to achieve with the red wall and graffiti; it’s a way of lampshading both ancient Rome and modern political discontent.  The space was dedicated to the players, to movement, dynamic and compelling.  The set changes were strangely electric.  The costumes were a great mix of old and new – modern shirts and trousers, accented with leather cuffs and breastplates and carefully chosen jewelry.

Suspense.  Despite knowing more or less how the play would end, I was on the edge of my seat.  Virgilia’s anxiety over her husband somehow renders the possibility of grave injury to him as more probable and pressing.  The discussions amongst Menenius, Brutus, Sicinius, and Cominius keep the question of consulship open, not a foregone conclusion.  It even seemed possible that Coriolanus might kill Aufidius early on, or be killed in Aufidius’s household.

Clearly the servant is ready to stab him at a word from Aufidius.

Clearly the servant is ready to stab him at a word from Aufidius.

Sympathy.  Throughout the whole play, each character made understandable choices and acted in consistent ways.  Though it turned out badly, it’s hard to castigate Cominius and Volumnia for encouraging Coriolanus to become consul.  It’s impossible to assign all the culpability to Coriolanus either.  One could blame the tribunes Brutus and Sicinius, but at least some portion of their double-tongued talk rings true.

Tom Hiddleston as Caius Marcius Coriolanus.  As noted, this is hardly a sympathetic role.  Caius is a successful general who takes over a city, thereby winning the name Coriolanus, but he’s rather less successful at public office.  His campaign for consul – encouraged by his commander Cominius and his glory-hungry mother Volumnia – ends in a lot of yelling, since Coriolanus doesn’t think much of the citizens and doesn’t ever try to hide it.  People lambaste him for his pride, for rudeness, for harsh speech, etc., and yet it’s easy to see why Coriolanus is proud of his military service, guarded with his scars, impatient with the easily led rabble, and angry when accused of treason.  He goes from hollering in the streets to covering himself in blood in battle to clean-cut mama’s boy to smirking voice-stealer, and that’s just in the first couple acts.

Coriolanus hips

Mark Gatiss as Menenius.  For the bulk of the play, he alternates between encouraging everyone to behave reasonably (you can almost hear “Sherlock Holmes, put your trousers on,” except it’s more a “Coriolanus, take your shirt off so everyone can see your battle scars”) and being a master of sass:

Men.  Our very priests must become mockers if they shall encounter such ridiculous subjects as you are. When you speak best unto the purpose it is not worth the wagging of your beards; and your beards deserve not so honourable a grave as to stuff a botcher’s cushion, or to be entombed in an ass’s pack-saddle. Yet you must be saying Marcius is proud; who, in a cheap estimation, is worth all your predecessors since Deucalion, though peradventure some of the best of ’em were hereditary hangmen. Good den to your worships: more of your conversation would infect my brain, being the herdsmen of the beastly plebeians: I will be bold to take my leave of you.

So that was quite entertaining enough on its own.  But then I watched him bid Coriolanus farewell in Act IV, and approach his camp to beg Coriolanus to spare his erstwhile home from destruction in Act V.  Terribly moving, even more in my estimation than the tears of Virgilia or the clamorous exhortation of Volumnia.

All in all, I went away flooded with thoughts and reeling with emotion.  Somehow I didn’t expect that.  It’s been a while since a Shakespearian play has been such a surprise for me.  This, I kept thinking, this is why Shakespeare is still a big deal.

This is what theater should be.

This is what art ought to do.

Catch an encore performance if you possibly can, and prepare thy brow to crease in laughter, to frown, to furrow in sadness.