Women of Conflicting Views
One often thinks of women in the past, particularly women of the 17th century, as retiring, domestic, and uninvolved in the “matters of men,” particularly global politics. But two women of that time period, both busy mothers with many children, found they had the time, interest, motivation and skill to not only educate themselves regarding the political happenings of their time, but also to write their viewpoint in poetic form. It was a time when women’s views were not just discounted but openly scorned and laughed at, yet these two women, Anne Bradstreet and Hester Pulter, found time to write poetry in support of their position on the political cataclysm of their day, the English Civil War of _________. They also wrote poetry of a far more personal vein upon the death of family members, expressing their loss and grief. Their work gives a surprisingly intimate view at the lives of two intelligent, educated women, on opposite sides of both the Atlantic Ocean and a similarly wide political chasm, who created lyrical verse on personal and political topics in the 17th century.
Appearances are Misleading
There is currently a cable television program entitled What Not To Wear, wherein the hosts, also known as the “Fashion Police,” descend upon a community at the request of the family and friends of a person whose outward appearance and clothing style is “sub-par.” There, the hosts corner the poor woman, confront her with her ignominious social misdeed of a less than impressive appearance, and, on international television, mercilessly humiliate her, as they exhibit their secretly obtained film footage of her in the past weeks, displaying her fashion faux pas, while her family and friends surround her and look on. Are these people who love her most empathetically cringing at her embarrassment, or defending her loyally, pointing out her true assets and contributions to society? No. They sit by in silence, allowing her to suffer for what has become the most unforgivable sin of our image-focused society: an unappealing exterior. In a society ravaged by the effects of myriad immense social problems, what is most important is only the outward appearance. Like Jason in Medea, modern American society has largely ignored loyalty and the truly valuable in a quest for the superficial impressive exterior that is symptomatic of underlying hubris and greed. Perhaps, the time has come for a modern production of Euripides’ ancient Greek play Medea, with its focus on the impending doom of family, and by extension, all of society, if we continue to value only the meaningless exterior, oblivious to the values that might save us and give true meaning to life.
The Force of Evil
An astute reader, after reading both The Scarlet Letter and Moby Dick, would not be at all surprised to learn that Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville were, for a time at least, good friends. One senses a closeness philosophically and an interest both obviously had, and more than likely discussed, concerning the nature of evil in our world and the best method of dealing with the oft-times terrifying heartaches that being human entails. Parallel characters in Dr. Chillingworth and Captain Ahab represent the most destructive response to those problems, in their not unusual behavior of obsessively seeking revenge. At the other end of the spectrum are Hester Prynne and First Mate Starbuck, who are the victims of both life’s vicissitudes and the inevitable problems brought upon the innocent when other parties give in to evil obsessions. Both Romantic novels, the stories lend themselves to an analysis of allegory, as one can easily draw comparisons between the world of earliest Boston, the world of the Pequod, and contemporary society, as the two fictional settings demonstrate the problems brought upon the innocent as those in power seek to follow their own agenda of evil.
On the Brink of Disaster
Harold Pinter, born in 1930, was a child during the world-changing event of World War II. During his Jewish childhood, he was evacuated to safer environs several times, but still forced to endure some trauma caused by the bombing during the Nazi Blitz. As a young man, he refused military service on the grounds that he was a conscientious objector, and was fined twice for his stubborn refusal to submit to authority on the issue. While most critics allege that his political and anti-war themes were not prominent until the 1970’s, one cannot help but see the beginnings of these ideas in his early play The Birthday Party, first performed in 1958 (Pinter 603). It is in this early play, written not many years after the horrific nuclear bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, that Pinter exposes a world of horror from which the characters wish to retreat, and an environment of denial and escapism that cannot save Stanley Webber, who is broken by the political machinery necessitated by the attitudes of the Cold War.
Such Bravery of Heart
A global issue that has faded somewhat since the turn of the 21st Century, “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland will again be the focus of drama in the upcoming film Hunger, set in Belfast’s Maze Prison. It portrays the hunger strike of Bobby Sands twenty-seven years ago, and will doubtless lead the audience to wonder about the driving desperation and perseverance required to willingly undergo the slow torturous death of starvation. Along with Sands, nine other strikers perished as a protest against the conflict and the issue of Irish self-determination and rule. Steve McQueen, the director, and Irish playwright Edna Walsh researched the recent history of this conflict in preparation for the film (Lim 11).
It will not be the first drama to look at the Irish people and their quest for freedom and peace, with many works having been written on the subject, going back to John Millington Synge’s early 20th Century and much more humorous evocation of Irish pride. While his play The Playboy of the Western World offended many Irish Nationalists of his day, it offered up the playwright’s feelings on Irish character, and invoked a pride in place and people that, on the surface at least, appears less than charitable to his native soil and clan. His pride in the courage, romantic imagination, and poetry of the Irish people encouraged them to embrace their national characteristics, both good and bad, believe in themselves, and move forward, not in imitation of others, but rather in a quest to discover their true, national, artistic identity.