27 - Abi Morgan

The basis for this play is a convent of present-day nuns who become a case study for scientists studying Alzheimers; the plot covers a span of 5 years, and investigates the tension between religious faith and scientific progress, centered on a young nun named Ursula.

I found the ideas brought forward in the play to be compelling and thought-provoking, with various characters embodying not only the poles of the debate, but the two main characters embodying the conflict within themselves. I did, however, find that stylistically this was problematic. Morgan uses a Churchill style interruption technique in conversations, but I found it was oddly inconsistent in its present. Similarly she sets up the play with Richard (lead researcher) Addressing the audience; this holds up a fair bit at first, but then is almost lost around the middle of the play..then re-surfaces toward the end again. I found this rather confusing while reading, and feel it may be problematic to stage coherently for that reason.

Overall an interesting read, but likely not a play whose language will stay with me.

Musings on our Lady Duchess

While working on Act 4 of Duchess, and also along the side thinking through how I might like to approach the play for our end of term presentations, I have been thinking considerably about what in this play affects me. First, and probably most importantly, I find the character of the Duchess to be interesting not only as an actor, but as a spectator watching this woman's life. For the title character in the play, we see remarkably little of her, and know much more about those around her first-hand. From what we see...she lies to her brothers and says she will not marry, takes things into her own hands and marries her servant, keeps this a secret from her strong-willed brothers....but proceeds to have children with this unknown husband. Once she is discovered, she faces her imminent death with grace and strength, not fighting back (though she does take a mild detour away from Malfi...) and ultimately dying before the play itself is completed.

At the same time, we see that due to her power and status, she has Antonio wrapped around her finger; she exerts her power over him psychologically and sexually, seemingly taunting him, daring him to step out against her brothers, which she must know he cannot and will not do. Yet despite her power due to rank of birth, she is ultimately powerless as a woman who cannot decide for herself what her future will hold. Her line in act 3 really sums up her journey in the play for me - "Why should only I, of all the other princes in the world, be cased up like a holy relic?". It is precisely this that is the tension of her existence in the play; she is a prince, and should be free to act as she pleases. Were she a male, her actions (regardless of their moral value) would be accepted, never questioned....certainly she would never be condemned to death. Yet Webster isn't exactly painting us a picture for women's empowerment; rather he seems to present us with a hierarchy of power, everyone is controlled by someone, despite illusions of freedom.

image: Gustav Klimt - The Flower Garden

Shakespeare - Hamlet

Have read this one many times in the past as well, this time as required reading for Birkbeck Scene Study. I think my read this time was influenced by having just read Othello the day before, but i really felt the stagnancy of the pace in Hamlet's first acts this time around. Although much happens, the movement of the play is rather sustained until nearly the point when the Mousetrap is played, after which it spirals quickly.

Sort of fuelled by class discussion today as well, I began to think of where the climax is in the plot of hamlet. I almost feel that the play steadily rises at a crazy level of intensity until one moment; for me, the deaths at the end of the play are a denouement, the inevitable consequence of a decision. The climax, then, is the moment when Hamlet finally reasons with himself to the decision to kill Claudius. From here, the tension between action and inaction is imbalanced, moving swiftly from one action to the next.