Thursday, November 30, 2000

The Wallace, Nigel Tranter, summary

Klar, Celtic Romanticism 170

by Nigel Tranter

Tranter’s modern historical fiction based on the apocrypha surrounding William Wallace weaves together stories of Wallace’s ’s many skirmishes, historical or otherwise. Interesting to see how different the movie, Braveheart was from this novel.

A compelling read it wasn’t; this tedious four-part novel really was ‘homework.’ Give me Mel’s version, or should I say, dramatist Randall Wallace (who relied on Blind Harry)—even though John Balioll wasn’t dead in 1290, the French Princess was 5 or 6 years old, and at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, there was no bridge depicted. 

I love Randall Wallace’s ribald comment: “I try not to let facts get in the way of truth.” (History’s Mysteries, 11/29/00, The History Channel.) “As a dramatist, you need to know why you should tell the story before you decide how to tell it. . . . Blind Harry and I are both dramatists. . . . History is far more than scholars, history lives in storytelling.” Tranter manages to fit in most of the stories of Wallace, but they seem stilted, a chore to read. This is a manly story, no bodice ripper, with incredible attention paid to battle details. He occasionally forgets himself and writes well when it involves scenic descriptions.

Tranter’s story opens with the slaughter of the nobles of Ayr, as does Braveheart, except Wallace is an adult. Wallace and 50 men (commoners) with boulders for weapons, seek revenge on the English captain responsible, Fenwick, who is Wallace’s father’s murderer—with a guerrilla strike at Loudon Hill. This incident is the catalyst to overthrow English oppression. 

With English weaponry, and encouragement from the clergy, John Blair, Thos. Gray, Bishop Wishart and William Lamberton of Glasgow, they continue their guerrilla tactics from their base, Ettrick Forest, Wallace’s “capital.” We read of their taking of strategic cities: Perth, Glasgow, Edinburgh (without a blow taken), Aberdeen, etc. Sir James Steward, Wallace’s overlord, and an official for the English crown, is an example of the crossed allegiances between English and Scots nobility, of which, The Bruce, vacillates the most. 

A nice twist on the tale is when The Bruce knights Wallace when the Privy Council members refuse to accept Wallace as Guardian at Selkirk because he is of lesser rank. The way Tranter handles the council scenes and the way he portrays Wallace’s astute political decisions, makes for a good read. He depicts Wallace as a leader of bands, not a general of an army: his greatest weakness and character flaw is unveiled at Falkirk. 

Tranter does not neglect the significant role the Church of Scotland played in Scotland’s struggle for freedom from the English (spiritual warriors). A tidbit on the drawing & quartering: medieval man was preoccupied with burial for a good reason: he needed an intact body, buried facing east in a churchyard—in order to be resurrected. Edward’s attempt to literally send Wallace to hell only served to make a martyr of him.

Tranter seems unaware of Celtic motifs. However, we can overlay Celtic stereotypes: the clergy function as druids and warriors; Wallace is literally larger than life, warriors are nearly undefeatable (but they’re commoners), they’ re betrayed by nobles (warrior class), and kings. 

Rival Edward is a combination of druid (lawmaker, arbitrator), greedy king (Caesar), and warrior. But Wallace (a Vercingetorix/CúChulainn character), a commoner, is his primary target in an enormous game of chess/fidchell with live knights, bishops, and pawns. In Tranter’s story, we learn of the historical background of the principal players, and their motivations—the visual story of Braveheart is painted more imagistic. 

BUT with the advent of Braveheart, we’ve literally witnessed romanticism in action. Time past and time present. Braveheat resurrected the Wallace icon as a symbol for freedom. A catalyst, it reawakened nationalistic feelings in Scotland and galvanized it into rethinking its political identity. In May, 1977, the Labor Party wins 3:1 on the “Braveheart ticket” (freedom!) 

On Sept. 7, 1997, the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Stirling Bridge, the Referendum for Devolution was signed, and in July, 1999, a new Scottish Parliament was called to order. Today is St Andrew’s Day, Scotland’s patron saint. Alba go Bragh! Wallace needs no tomb for resurrection, he has risen again in celluloid format. Arthur must be waking.

Tuesday, November 28, 2000

The Bruce, by John of Barbour, summary

Klar, Celtic Romanticism 170

by John of Barbour

As I previously mentioned in my review of Blind Harry’s Sir William Wallace, I had trouble reading and (comprehending) the Lowland Scots texts. Prelate John of Barbour, archdeacon of Aberdeen, then the richest city in Scotland, wrote in 15 “buiks” The Bruce, ca. 1376, within living memory of Bruce’s reign. Celtic motifs: heroic battles, superhero, kings, druids/priests, soothsayers, treachery, revenge, freedom! This story contains more traditional Celtic elements: most battles happen at fords, between worlds, there are mysterious mists.

Robert the Bruce is portrayed as a super hero with no equal rival, save his knights: brother Edward and the black James of Douglas. Though more powerful than the Scots, the English suffer greatly under his hand, especially at Bannockburn.

The story opens with an envoi proclaiming the tale’s veracity, and sets the scene with the interregnal origins of Scotland’s oppression: the competing claims of John Balioll and The Bruce (surely he means the father?) to the throne; Edward Longshanks is invited to arbitrate and gives the crown to Balioll, a puppet king who, in effect, gives Scotland to England. 

The Lowlands are planted with (English) Norman noblemen who don’t rule wisely. Scots are hung for the merest offenses and yearn for freedom in a marvelous rallying speech: A! Fredome is a noble thing! ...all solace to man’s giffis.... And sould think fredome mar to pryss/ Than all the gold in warld that is.

William of Douglas is seized, slain while his son James lives in exile in France for three years. He lands at St Andrews to reclaim his lands and is compared to Ector of Troy. Bishop William of Lamberton presents him to The Bruce as knight. Bruce is betrayed by familial enemy and arch rival to the crown, John of Comyn. Bruce is summoned to London, escapes arrest and returns to Scotland to slay the traitorous Comyn at Dumfries. 

He is crowned at Scone, defeated at Methven, and Dalry by John of Lorn, where he is compared to Hannibal and Charlemagne. A chivalrous scene and feast with the queen, who are made prisoners at the Girth of Tain. Neil Bruce is betrayed, Edward I consults a fiend as to the time and place of his death (shades of Homer!). 

The Bruce returns to Arran and rallies forces with James of Douglas and Edward, his brother, lands at Carrick, holds a council of war. A woman accosts him on the beach and prophesies his victory. Percy abandons Turnberry, the queen is captured, the king attacked by traitors, and fights his way out single-handedly. The Galloway men attack, he routs them. 

A portrait of English Warden Sir Aymer de Valence (worthy opponent?), who attacks; but John of Lorn attacks form the rear, and pursues the fleeing king with bloodhounds. The Bruce slays his trackers, his foster-brother slain. As Edward Bruce makes some headway in Gallwoay, Bruce engages in single-handed combat with Valence and like Arthur, is wounded, and carried in a litter.

He rises again ad routs his enemies (the mist cleared suddenly)s; Perth falls. Douglas overhears plans to betray The Bruce, and attacks. Edward II marches, we get the four battles of Bannockburn in full detail; the taking of Edinburgh castle; Edward Bruce lays siege to Sterling, the governor capitulates.

Bruce address his troops like Caesar, Scottish archers destroy the English Horse, camp followers, some 15,000 strong, come to see the battle. The English mistaken them for enforcement troops and capitulate. Bruce reunites with his queen and daughter traded as hostages. Engram with the king and a laundress (weird—oblique reference to the washer at the ford  = death motif? ) followed by the death of Bruce.

As James Goldman, author of The Lion in Winter said "Historians and storytellers don't have much in common, but they do share this: the past, once it gets hold of you, does actually come alive. For scholars, this is troublesome. For writers, it's the good stuff."

Sir William Wallace, by Blind Harry (Henry) the Minstrel, summary

Klar, Celtic Romanticism 170

by Blind Harry (Henry) the Minstrel

I found the fascinating stories of Sir William Wallace and The Bruce to be both a technical challenge. I was not prepared for the differences in between Chaucer’s Midlands Middle English and Lowland Scots (tho I read Robert Burns without difficulty). Reading aloud helped somewhat, but I was so distracted, I forgot what I was reading. Without the modern interpretation I was lost.

Interesting to note, in the modern novels of Nigel Tranter and Randall Wallace (Braveheart), the apocryphal stories have all but blurred and the heroes Wallace/Bruce have become divine twins. We have the usual Celtic motifs: heroic battles, larger than lifesuperhero, kings, druids/priests, soothsayers (women), treachery, revenge, freedom!

A traditional romance written in heroic couplets ca. 1460—a century and a half after the death of William Wallace—Blind Harry’s 9 “buiks” opens with A Love Adventure where an amorous outlaw Wallace, disguised variously as a monk or a woman, evades the archvillan English—Butler laid a trap for him on the 3rd night but despite bribes, the maid told Wallace of the plot. 

Wallace, a commoner, is nearly caught slaying the son of Selby, the English Governor. His father and brother are slain; he seeks refuge with his uncle but runs afoul over fish with some Englishmen, whom he slays. He is captured and thrown into prison; near death, he is cast out: his old nanny retrieves and nurses him with her daughter’s breast-milk. 

He rises to rout Lord Percy at Loudoun Hill, ambushes Fenwick, and avenges his father’s murder. Men flock to his fugitive band in order to fight the English, including the brigand traitor Fawdon. In the Forest of Gask, as Wallace is tracked by bloodhounds, Fawdon feints fatigue. Wallace, suspecting treason, smites him, throwing the dogs off his scent He escapes his enemies, swimming the Forth, finds refuge on Torwood, and sends a woman back to spy, and is joined by his uncle.

In Lanark, he meets Marion Braidfute, marries her and has a daughter. Grim scene where the English cut off the horses’ tails (emasculation?) More skirmishes and Marion is put to death aiding her husband’s escape. Wallace seeks revenge. Edward Longshanks, alarmed at the uprisings, journeys to Scotland and is defeated in the fictitious Battle of Biggar and sues for peace and a one-year truce. But two months later, 18 Scottish nobles are killed at the Burns of Ayr. 

Wallace is named Warden; he has a vision of his future, and avenges the deaths of the slain noblemen. In Glasgow he routs Percy and Beck; with The Campbell’s help, he slays Macfaydon, another of Edward’s men. Malcolm of Lennox takes Stirling for Wallace; English strongholds Perth and Dunotar also fall. 

At Dundee, he hears of Edward’s arrival with Cressingham. At the Battle of Stirling Bridge, the English are routed, Wallace’s most extraordinary victory: outnumbered 5:1, he drove the English Horse into the Forth. Most of Wallace’s noblemen are named in this section including Andrew Moray.

Wallace convenes a Parliament at Perth, but Cospatrick refuses to join, so he routs him along with The Bruce and other Norman nobles who’ve sworn allegiance to Longshanks. Wallace invades England, Edward sends the queen and 50 ladies and priests to sue for peace, but Wallace declines, revealing English atrocities; she weeps (and declares her love for him?) It sounds like he also raids London? 

Edward sues for peace; three years later Wallace goes to France, captures Longueville’s pirate fleet, and fights in French wars. Edward invades Scotland (again), Wallace returns to reclaim Lochleven and Dundee. Edward fans fire between Comyn & the Stewart; at the Battle of Falkirk, Stewart is killed, Wallace is wounded by The Bruce, who is fighting for the English. He laments this and the death of John Graham. He resigns as Guardian and returns to France but once again is called back to free Scotland. Bruce finally becomes king, Wallace is betrayed by a servant and is executed in London, a martyr for Scottish freedom.

Wednesday, November 15, 2000

Review of Billy the Kid & Battle of the Somme (missing text)

by Michael Oandaatje
at The Marsh

(Apologia: I found the performance and the newness of the material made it hard to isolate monologue elements. Much of my difficulty had to do with the actors being overwhelmed by the sheer verbiage—talking heads. I was awash in Oandaatje’s poetic language. Since the director veered from the original order of the text, it’s unfortunate that his vision didn’t extend to cutting more of the text—as the second half of the play was drawn out and confusing. But I digress: this is not meant to be a review of the play. . . )

There is very little by way of traditional dialog per se in The Collected Works of Billy the Kid by Michael Onadaatje (who also wrote The English Patient), as the entire play is comprised of loosely juxtaposed monologues and vignettes—some in the form of prose poems, others as small poems. The director’s vision shaped the format of the play as to what character said which dialogue and where. I chose both a throw-away monologue, and what I considered to be the most essential and riveting monologue for review.

For a non-essential monologue, I focused on John Chisum’s drinking story on one upmanship, where he spins a yarn about his friend Livingstone and his mad spaniel dogs.

The second monologue, a desert scene, I consider absolutely crucial to the structure of the play. As Pat Garrett rides Billy the Kid in for trial under the grueling sun, Billy undergoes an epiphany and comes to terms with both himself and with Garrett’s betrayal. 

When I later saw the text, I discovered that Chisum’s monologue picked up many through lines I didn’t realize were there: themes of animals—especially of dogs and of Billy hissing like snakes; and hidden madness; the role of hunters & assassins; and of strange, primal imagery: red dirt to ease pain, the maddening heat of the sun, the qualities of light, and Billy’s irrational fear of flowers (= death).
This is a story of corruption, greed and betrayal. Billy is a sacrificial lamb being led to slaughter on a trumped-up murder charge, even though everyone was guilty of killing someone during the three-day Lincoln County war, because the law has no other incriminating evidence to convict him of cattle-rustling. This theme becomes a thread throughout the play. The cattle politicians considered Billy’s occupation a hindrance to New Mexico’s new image. “We were bad for progress” says Billy in his opening lines.

The scene: Fort Sumner, New Mexico, sometime before Christmas, 1880. The story unfolds with Billy, on his 21st birthday (Nov. 23—the day before mine) experiencing several flashbacks. It’s hard to tell if he’s having all the flashbacks or if each character is simultaneously having flashbacks as well. The play works well either way. 

Gathered on John Chisum’s front porch one evening are John, his daughter Sallie, Billy, his girlfriend Angela, and Pat Garrett. After we learn that John Chisum’s daughter Sallie, who may or may not be having an affair with Billy, talk about her exotic Basset as being overbred for the fat French nobility, Chisum launches into an unexpected monologue about a singer friend of his from New Orleans. 

Livingstone who, after the Civil War, bought spaniels and bred a race of mad dogs that hissed like snakes. Chisum said, “it was like breeding roses.” The dogs’ eyes were slits and bulged like marbles. Livingstone learned to gauge a dog’s madness by the width of its pupils. Hunger and fornication were their only motivations, they were so inbred they were toothless and hissed like snakes. 

Livingstone hid his madness, but Chisum notes there was a perverse logic in Livingstone’s breeding the worst of the worst. The dogs turn on him and eat him—even his watch—everything except the hand that held the whip. So much for man’s best friend. 

The clock and this hand motif are echoes of an earlier line of Chisum’s about Billy’s shooting hand—how it was so beautiful to watch him unconsciously exercise that slender hand 12 hours a day. He never used it for anything else—even to pick up a cup of coffee. It only had one purpose: to kill. 

In retrospect, the monologue picks up several threads within the larger structure of the play. It was not only effective, it was a riveting attention grabber as the subject matter is unforgettable. Totally unexpected, it prepared the audience for the brutality that was to come: man’s inhumanity to man, and how not all legends are created equal ....that fine line between truth and fiction is stretched and inexorably expanded like verbal angioplasty. 

We learn of existing social structures within the play, the lengths character go to hide aberrant behavior—this is ironic foreshadowing since Pat Garrett will turn Billy in a few weeks hence. Also a complex character, Garrett, with all that self-taught French in his head and nowhere to use it, who meticulously stuffs exotic birds for a hobby, isn’t exactly a model of sanity either, though he is portrayed as such. 

Perhaps this is the metaphoric message: the danger of hidden insanity inbred within us—especially the pup-pets of the nobility, or of those in power. This scene could easily be cut without disrupting the integrity of the play. But Billy’s self-revelatory monologue is the heart of the play.

Billy is being taken across the desert for trial in Messilia. Chained to his horse, Billy begins to hallucinate: On the fifth day the sun turned into a pair of hands. Then it began to unfold my head..The sun ... washed his finger on my tongue..touched my heart with his wrist...followed cul de sacs of bone there when I was born, brushing cobwebs of nerves...down the last 100 miles to my sack of sperm...cock standing out of my head..then he brought his other hand into play. 

Two hands: one dead, one borne from me like crystal...then he let go...I could hear everything on my skin...Pat asking, “What’s wrong Billy?” I’ve been fucked... And a desperate Billy rolled off his horse, legs still chained beneath, to retreat from the relentless sun in the meager shade of the horse’s belly. Three weeks on a horse, at the Polk Hotel he had to be carried into his last white room, his last good bed.

Billy’s desert monologue totally envelops us. We’re right there riding along with him, we feel his pain, the heat of the sun. The lighting supports the language, as he begins to sort it all out, the brightness of the sun increases until we too are melting beneath its relentless gaze. 

The empathy that we feel for Billy despite his dubious profession, is honed, we’re left quivering and raw as Billy. We feel his vulnerability, we empathize with his victimhood. We understand that though he chose the life of a gunslinger, he has no regrets. This scene prepares us for the anticlimactic second half of the play—the Hollywood version of the myth of Billy the Kid where a drunken Frank James, brother to Jesse, is the ticket-taker.

 And the reporters’ final exclusive interview mirrors our modern preoccupation with the schizophrenic debunking and idolizing of the (in)famous. Many of the monologues serve as a framing device; the desert scene is a meta-frame that both gathers up many loose ends and holds the play together. Using metaphors that work on several levels, Oandaatje captures the myth, not fact, though the play poses much of Billy’s life as fact. What’s interesting is why Billy became a legend at all.

by Frank MacGuinness
Viadict Theatre Co.
at The Phoenix and above Kate O’Brien’s

Observe the Sons of Ulster is a menory play where the lone survivor of the Battle of the Somme, an elder Piper, the main character (as played by Earl Kingston) looks back on his life and asks why of all his troop, only he survived. The audience are vouyers. watching a man redreaming the past His long (10-minute) monologue, an angry, forced memory provides the trajectory and opens the play, it sets the scene and transmits vital information about the characters but it doesn’t give away what will happen in the play. You have to wait for it to unfold. All the players and their relationships with Piper, are introduced as ghosts. The monolog invites and anchors them. It’s a well crafted scene in its entirety

(we have ASCII HELL HERE! The rest of article is gone, baby, gone.)

he develops as a character

rebuilt image of his fallen companions

and an act of self-forgiveness,

a projection of his menory so that the audience can see

how aware is he? He’s mentally unstable, seeing ghosts

Piper awakens in an armchair where he’s dozed off, and is forced to remeber that he survived and his friends sidn/t’ He tries to rationalize the suffering.

He rebels against being forced to remember for the benefit of others.
Battle cry history he’s enfranchisinf his struggle for forgiveness with Ulster’s struggle for freedom. He equates himself with William of Orange’s soldiers. He conflates thems and reaches back into myth and legend to reinforce his moral position He reaches back to Hamlet to be or not to be evokes man’s struggle with life and death he reappropriates Cu Chulainn from the fenians to serve his cause. reusurpation of traditon modernizes it with sinn fen and links it to the puritan work ethic of the elect, the chosen ones

dev char background rebel inviting original sin self revolt it is your course upon them

Psych profile assessments I’m a fool a liar, I started out wrong i have to learn the hard way

reationalize and reconcile individual psyche with god with hhom he’s at variance with because he’s in pain

war expereince broke him self aware of inner transformation from punk to reluctant servant of god

earl internal monolog big memory recalled against wishes forced like an advancing army et s emotional tenor someone who’s psychologically tortured

a verbal battle pain of losing friends, loss of family comerafes surviving to assuage the pain

the burden of surviving after the war for you I had to be different. to rebuilt it in an image of my fallen comerades out to make Ulster a better place honor their memory and assuage his won guilt

he was practicca, he managed his fathers estates, he was politically connected

Piper wants to know if his ghosts have an existence outside of his menory. He asks for proof. He asks: why did we do it/ then answers his own questions. hate, deepest hate we wished ourselves to die (the true curse of Adam)Save me! the protestant gods are dead (enniskellen0 I have remarkably fine skin doffor a man dance ot the lord

was it expected? no it provides the scaffolding for the playwright’s conception of the piece, a theatrical convention, it provides the opening shots and motifs, piper’s thorugh lune, those involved, the outcome of war, his torture as a man, sociao-religious political issues of n. Ireland

It hints at the playright’s background even though it’s told form the other side Prot

again? I do not nderstand your insistence terror? I still see your ghost...horror into madness...the irreplaceable ones kept their nerve and died...the stuff heroues were made of...a hero+death...You taught me to believe in you. battle cry No surrender! patriotic echo of Battl of the boyne & sinn fein ourselves alone oceans of blood our inheritacne I did not wish to be chosen... \

Maureen Hurley, 11/15/2000
Justin Chinn, Creatiive Writing 605-01 

Sunday, November 5, 2000

The Táin, tr. by Thomas Kinsella, summary

Klar, Celtic Romanticism 170

from the Irish Epic Táin Bó Cuailnge
translated by Thomas Kinsella

Kinsella’s 1969 translation of The Táin, the “oldest vernacular epic of Western literature,” was 15 years in the making and long overdue, as the other translations were hopelessly antiquarian, whether Lady Gregory’s Kiltartan paraphrased rendition, Dunn’s 1914 translation, or editors Cross and Slover’s (Standish Hayes O’Grady translation? not notated) 1936 edition.

These Celtic Revival translations utilized the 12th c. Lebor Leinster (LL) manuscript while Kinsella used the older 12 c. Lebor na hUidre (LU: Book of the Dun Cow) version, supplementing it with the 14th c. Yellow Book of Lecan where text was missing. (Some language dates to the 7th c.) 

Kinsella includes remscéla to supply the modern reader with foreknowledge necessary to understand the plot and motivations of The Táin—stories that 5th to 15th c. audiences would have already known. His translation is very much a product of the 1970s, more muscular than the fin de siècle versions written in “...a florid adjectival style, running at times to an overblown decadence....” But this is not a literal translation: he also reorganizes and deletes material as he sees fit, especially inconsistencies and repetitions, for the mindset of the modern reader.

Written for an aristocratic Ulster audience of a thousand years ago, The Táin looks back another thousand years to the Celtic Heroic Age. Often cited as “a window on the Iron Age,” this cattle raiding tale of betrayal, intrigue, magic and love—is of, and for the nobility. A tale within a tale, with the aes dána, poets, seers and bards as witnesses, it is peopled with gods, goddesses, half-mortal heroes who rush naked into battle, giants, and monsters. 

Events are set in motion when Connaught’s Queen Medbh and her consort Ailill, compare their possessions and she comes up a bull short. To even things out, they decide to raid Ulster for King Conchobar’s bull. But the bulls are really magic shape-shifting swineherds, enemies since time began: “Two pig-keepers were friends once—now crows will drink a cruel milk.”

The Táin begins with a tropos like the Mahabarata: a king-making tale lost in the antiquities of time, retrieved through magic. A great mist formed around the druid Senchán Torpéist’s son and pupil, the poet Muirgen (of the sea), who for three days and nights, disappeared as the dead Ulster king Fergus mac Roich, a demigod and a protagonist, recited the Táin in its entirety from the grave on Samhain. 

However, the redactor/scribe embellished hard romantic elements to satisfy his medieval Christian audience. The action takes place from Monday (Doomsday) after Samhain to Spring’s beginning (Easter). In other versions (which the scribe refers to),Conchobar, the self-made king, brought down by his own lust and greed, will later die of a brainball lodged in his head by Ulster’s hero, CúChulainn, when he hears of the death of Christ (thus dating the story-frame to the birth of Christ). 

Grave names are written in Ogham, dating it to the 5th c.; but no one in the story (or in the 7th, or 12th Cs. for that matter) actually knows Ogham; Fergus is called in to read the Ogham warning on CúChulainn’s spansel hoop of challenge.

The Táin, AKA the Irish Iliad, preserves elements of Iron Age society—full of intrigue and betrayal. It includes seemly and aberrant behavior and appetites of kings and princes, druids (and -esses) and heroic warriors (and women); it gives genealogical, and naming data for demigod, warrior/hero and king lists. 

 The story offers formulaic, or sympathetic magic, battles and betrayals take place in water at the liminal boundaries of fords, and the heroes are denied success by their gessa. It explains placenames (though they don’t match up). Like the other heroes, Connaught’s Queen Medbh, a landed goddess, with appetites larger than life; she even pees prodigiously, creating gorges and canyons. Its hard romantic elements include in extraordinary detail, the battle accouterments and clothing of every troop as well as the battles. Even the anachronism of chariots, though chariots never existed in Ireland.

Saturday, November 4, 2000

Brigid monologue outline for a one-act play in three parts

Subj: Brigid monologue
Date: 11/04/00

Query to Gemma Whelan, Breda Courtney
Wilde Irish Productions

Dear Gemma,

Thank you for your interest in my monologue. Below is the structure I envision for my Brigid monologue piece, and the first piece which I performed (but it doesn't incorporated the structure...since that's newer). The challenge is working within a structure when I'm not sure what impetus is needed to carry a monolog of this length (10--15 minutes...seems like an eternity).

BRIGID I envision a ninefold story in three movements, as it were.

1, Brigit as mythological goddess Creatrix

a) maker of the earth—only she can hear the earth singing—she is wearing a cloak or mantle NSEW
b) as morning star/fire venus / love
3) as darkness/chaos (not sure of this aspect)

2 Brigit as saint

a) childhood Curragh north
b) sainthood Kildare west east, also Wales as St. Ffraid 
 fight w/ imposter Brigid in Sweden?
c) death Ulster??? not sure of this aspect

3 Brigit as mortal

a) as changeling, invoke Brigid Cleary, little brigid/fairies
b) shiva/kali Bridie Murphy story
c) ?? tying in w/ Ulster and the red hand....destruction of the earth/ozone

Then I can work in something on the line of L Gregory's "You have taken the north from me, the south from me--that fabulous poem in Huston's The Dead....

Any other ideas gratefully sought.

as to costume:
wig/crown w/20 cantles (xmas lights)... her mantle...I've some silk pieces I've made, with tendrils hidden beneath it, spreading as she spins to claim the earth.... not just the Curragh. And the evil that escapes to the sea (Bres/Fomorii) will haunt our own polluted earth. Alpha/omega: ourobouros. At closure, she lifts her red hand to the audience saying "read the hand..." (I borrowed that from Heaney...)

(I edited out much of the middle saint/mortal section out during my performance; part three is very weak as I didn't have an ending, and didn't know where to go with it. What is of interest? What has potential? (It ran away with me, I need to bridle it, but first I need to find a bridle! Was a time I had bridles aplenty.)

Wednesday, November 1, 2000

One Brief Shining Moment: Remembering Kennedy, summary

Klar, Celtic Romanticism 170

Remembering Kennedy
by William Manchester

William Manchester’s poetic tribute to, and documentation of the Kennedy legend—written twenty years after his death—paints JFK as an Arthurian martyr-messiah. He begins his essay with facts of the assassination and then maps the nation’s psyche. A segue to the official mourning period and the forecast of its rapid passing, versus the nation’s protracted grief, becomes the focus of his essay.

Manchester weaves a scant biography of Kennedy: how Jack, as a child, read about the knights of the roundtable, of his youth as a knight in training, of his political career as king, and of his death as heroic exemplar. He reminds us of how time erased the man, thus replacing him with a legend as old as humanity. 

In the epigram from Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur: “There thou lyest...” he evokes the death of Launcelot and of the roundtable, he compares it to the death of an idyllic era that never was: America in the ’60s. Though it was the age of the antihero, of victim, it was a kinder, gentler nation that might have been. 

 He writes of how we incorporated/ appropriated images of Kennedy into our lives. We are inside Bobby and/or Jack’s heads via the cosmos: “You ...recall...the Southern Cross.... ” Jack as a rising star. Text and sub-text. ... “When he shall die./ take him and cut him out in little stars...” This astral theme is no accident: Jack/Arthur-as-constellation. The title evokes Camelot, the brief star we wish upon.

Manchester retells the historical origins of the Arthurian story through the ages (1500 years!) and of its accretions through the oral tradition. He paints his constellation of a latter-day Camelot with Kennedy as all aspects of the dream: as Arthur, as Lancelot, as Gwenivere (well, maybe, Marilyn/Jackie), as Excalibur, as a messiah, as martyr, etc. 

He evokes the manuscripts of the pseudo-historians: Gildas, Nennius, Geoffrey, Jesus... Manchester’s thumbnail sketch of social commentator David Brinkley as rational versus emotional prophets, seers and oracles is a base form of druidic function, as are the literary agents and pollsters. 

We have many aspects of Le Morte d’Arthur: shrines & pilgrimage, quests & holy relics, pageantry & idolatry. Interesting to note the tchotchkii industry of Kennedy memorabilia (holy relics) was spawned by prolonged national grief. 

Death of a hero-king (whether or not the facts be true) is good for business. How public works were rechristened worldwide, even a section of Runnymede where the Magna Carta was signed, became a Kennedy shrine. “Once a leader becomes a martyr, transformation naturally follows.” 

 Kennedy is endowed with a nimbus, clothed in raiment so that we have no choice but to look up and see him as a part of the firmament, and identify him as star of the first magnitude.

Manchester begins his essay in typical journalistic fashion—basic reportage— he jousts with personal perspective so that the reader is both inside and outside the text. Through a misted lens, personal and collective memory and fact blur and merge. Not quite yellow journalism, this filmic essay is in the camp of Gonzo (I, myself & I feel, therefore I am) journalism. 

Don’t get me wrong: I loved the piece but it is personal narrative masquerading as factual journalism. (I can hardly believe that this is the same author who wrote so dark a picture of the Dark Ages., but I digress...)