THE LAND, Shakespeare & Germaine Greer

Greetings from the 2011 Brisbane Floods!

 

I wrote this poem on Australia Day on its Bi-centenary,

It is, as you will come to see, a kind of prophecy,

Now 23 years later, you may judge as to its accuracy..

 

The Land

 

They would not curse the Land

Tho we pushed them to the edges of Extinction

in our frantic exploitation..

They loved it far too much for that.

They would not lay down trapdoor, tripwire Curses

Or poison waterholes,

Just told us in words

We would not learn to hear

For at least Two Hundred years,

That the Land will hate you if you won’t listen..

Bad Luck to try and harm the Land.

The Land will hate you if you try!”

 

It WAS the Land itself that rose up,

Long after the Others had been led away,

In neck irons to prisons, graveyards,

shanty-towns & slums.

It turned against us when we tried to tame it,

Grains would not grow

where once were plains of waving grasses.

Cattle starved where once the native animals

prospered. Where trees were razed,

and cities raised the rain no longer fell.

The old paintings were not renewed

And the seasons fell apart.

We remembered nothing of the Others knowledge,

Disdained and forgot what “Savages” knew,

We went and made the Land a jail

Of rectangles and cubes,

And prison farms

To be worked behind barbed wire.

 

Unloved the Land curled in upon itself

And showed us only its Indifference.

Hostile as we blundered sweating

Through a landscape made of heat and dreams,

Cursing in our desperation

A Land we never tried to understand.

We ignored its Warnings, its Mysteries,

Its Beauty and were glad

to be content with a vision bland

One vast, unending suburban plan.

Rose up against us.

Would suffer no more Indignities.

Shook the poisons from the air

with the Wind Wings of Storm,

Swept the River’s clean

With surging floods

and washed the whole Land clean

of all our petty flood-plain clutterings whilst we cried,

APOCALYPSE!” and “DISASTER!”

and cursed

the un-naturalness of Nature… 

And elsewhere sheep and cattle swarmed

like lice over the denuded hillsides,

‘Til the Land withdrew its blessing

And shriveled hot and dry the hills,

Now wrinkled like the hide of some

Vast Beast of Earth and Drought.

 

And elsewhere ice fell

Where it never fell before,

Or sun grew hotter than white skins

could bear.

And so it went all across the Land

It seemed all of Nature

Had turned against our hand

As tidal waters washed away

Tall buildings built on sand,

(And where we’d damn a river storing

Water for ONE million souls,

We would increase with little thought

Until our numbers equaled THREE,

then puzzled at our thirst.)

 

So on and on and on it went,

The Land’s wealth wasted, squandered, spent,

Two hundred years of Arrogance,

Stupidity and Greed,

That finds us gathered here at last

Beneath this flag, a drunken mob of thieves,

Boastful and cruel.

Back slapping, blowing trumpets,

Celebrating, drinking beer,

We march blindfolded backwards

Towards the next two hundred years.

 -26th. January, 1988.

 ***************

 

Book review:

Shakespeares Wife” by Germaine Greer (2007)

Shakespeares Language” by Frank Kermode

Shakespeare” by Bill Bryson

 

What with recent torrential rains and being laid up with the flu, I took the opportunity to do some concentrated reading and focused on the works of that “upstart crow”, young William Shakes-spear and a couple of books about him. To take advantage of the weather and set the mood, I decided to just read plays that had a good storm in them, like the Tempest, Macbeth and of course, King Lear, which is one long hurricane really.

 I admit it took me a while to get into Lear, but I ended up reading it twice. It’s actually more subtle than a simple plot synopsis would indicate. It’s not a simple straightforward tragedy with Lear as the innocent victim. He’s at least partly culpable. He’s also an extremely irritating old man, probably on the brink of Alzeimers, and at the very least is a real burden on his family to financially support and deal with. Many modern families with an older relative suffering from dementia could perhaps identify to a degree with Goneril & Regan’s frustration when dealing with their father’s unrealistic demands.

 Of course Edmund, the subplot’s villain, is indeed an out and out evildoer, and was perhaps put there by way of contrast to show that there are degrees of villainy. And is Regan more evil than Goneril? And what of Cordelia, the spoilt “baby” of the family. She could have humoured her father and played along in the beginning and none of this would have happened. No, she was too proud. Is King Lear, the precursor to moderne day TV soap-opera’s like Dallas et al.

And what did happen to the Fool? Could be a sequel there..

 

Bill Bryson‘s “Shakespeare” is useful, witty, and necessarily brief, being basically an examination of just how little is known about Shakespeare’s life. Very little, as it turns out, not that that appears to have stopped the bard’s many biographers from hypothesizing wildly. In reading this book I was reminded of the plea of “Simpsons” attorney, Lionel Hutz, “We have lots of hearsay and conjecture, your Honour..that’s kind of evidence.” Yes. Which is an appropriate point to look at the next book, Shakespeare’s Wife.

All biographies of Shakespeare are houses built of straw, but there is good straw and rotten straw and some houses are built better than others”

So speaks the great Australian Iconoclast and maverick, Saint Germaine Greer. I like feisty old Germaine, and she can always be counted on to set the cat amongst the academic pidgeons. This book is no exception.

Essentially, she here takes task to the oft held idea (of many male academics apparently) that Shakespeare’s wife, Ann, was a shrew and that Willie hated her and ran away to London to get away from her. There seems to be a certain amount of prejudice due to her being older than Will. Some have tried to prove this from the words in his plays, others conjecture from the few known facts of his life. The evidence either way, as Mz Greer proves, is scanty, and open to widely variable interpretation.

Attempting to draw inferences about Shakespeare’s life from the speeches of the characters in his plays is an occupation surely fraught with peril. Imagine performing the same exercise with a modern day hollywood scriptwriter churning out some derivitive drivel like, say, CSI.

All writers draw on the autobiographical of course to one degree or another, but all good writers, and perhaps playwrights especially, need to let their characters speak with their own voices.

The most damaging evidence would appear to be that crack in his will about the “second-best bed”, apparently his sole bequest to his wife. GG does her best to posit alternative interpretations to this act being a vicious dig at the ole ball n chain, but this is probably the Ann-haters best shot.

Amusingly, after destroying every other biographer’s ‘house of straw’, she then attempts to construct her own, using similar materials. It must be said that as a researcher she is meticulous and draws out her sources to their best advantage. She argues a logical case, still a lot of her case is inferential at best and drawn from the activities of those around Shakespeare as much as his own doings.

 

By way of refreshing contrast, Frank Kermode appears not to have the least concern for

whether Shakespeare even had a wife, or which type of jam he favoured in the morning. A former professor at University College London, Cambridge & Harvard, his interest is focused clearly on the meat of it all, the language.

To the modern ear much of Shakespeare seems difficult to the point of incomprehensibility. Part of this is no doubt due to the passage of time and changes in the language, but as Mr (or is that Sir) Kermod demonstrates, even in Tudor times Shakespeare presented a challenge to the audience. The author notes that

simple clarity was less and less Shakespeares way. Even when the point seems simple, there is often a kind of aura of obscurity, enough strain on the language to tax the readers mind.

The tumbling succession of Shakespere’s imagery; one has barely apprehended one metaphor before one is swept away by the dizzying verbal currents. So is Shakespeare then written to be read, only fully appreciated by a reader, able to pause and consider the text’s lush convolutions? Should we consider Shakespeare as literature in fact, not mere plays. Speaking personally, a good number of Shakespeare’s plays have been dead to me until I’ve seen some brilliant actor take the obscure words and interpret them.

Still there’s no doubt that with Willie’s dizzying procession of images, metaphors and general convoluted word play, the theatre goer has a poor chance of holding onto to any of it bar a few brief snatches or a particularly brilliant word-image. Clearly there’s a role for the reading of Shakespeare.

This is not an easy book to read. Dense, layered, studious, too often the author’s obvious enthusiasim fails to ignite the reader’s interest. I’m not sure I agree with all his opinions either. Still, he got me to read King Lear again, and get a lot more out of it..

The early part of Shakespeare’s career is covered in the first half of the book, whilst each of the great plays gets a chapter to itself. This book would be helpful to University level students, for whom it was probably written.

*******

The Reverend Hellfire is a practising Performance Poet and an Ordained Minister of the Church of Spiritual Humanists.

He is not without honour save in his own land.

******************

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~ by reverendhellfire on January 16, 2011.

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