June 30, 2009

Compression (a short play)


Trying to twist something out of Aristotle’s Poetics is a difficult act indeed. The main question I find in examining Aristotle’s work is if the Poetics is either a more descriptive work or a prescriptive work. This is a question of interpretation that plays heavily in trying to write a work based on his precepts. If the work is purely descriptive, there is much more leeway possibly given to the poet in this modern age. The poets of Aristotle’s day were working under limitations of how they could represent action within the confines of their stage.
If Aristotle were to be able to examine the works of a modern dramatist or auteur, it is highly possible that he could work out different sets of dicta to proclaim what is good in modern drama or film. If the work in Poetics is instead more prescriptive, the limitations are not set by the stage, but by the philosopher. My feeling is that by the use of examples, Aristotle is more descriptive by showing what works best within the genres he examines. Embracing the idea of mimesis, where this representation is not only natural but pleasing, Aristotle claims that spectacle will necessarily be part of tragedy [1449b] but late claims that it is also the most artless part [1450b] of the work as a whole. The artless nature of spectacle is why I chose to begin my play at act five, and not include the highly spectacular account of the battle between Sparta and Crete on the Plain of Marathon.
The character development of Beatrix, Minos II, Falstaff Falstaff and Jerecles are left to the dustbin of history because “plot is the origin and as it were the soul of tragedy” [1450a] as Aristotle says, and character is a secondary concern. I did decide to call the play Compression since it is what I did for the plot play. Hopefully it is a play on the idea of compassion, which I tried to present Jerecles as having in abundance from the very beginning of act five, and I think would show through in the first four acts were they to be included. These four acts include the intro, courtship, pledging love, battle heroics, and finally the dialogue and action seen in Compression. I tried to connect to the envisioned plot with connective dialogue, but I am not sure how well that was done in the course of one brief scene, even if I found need to fall into self-consciousness. The connections were needed to help the idea that plot should be whole, with a beginning, middle and end so that it is comprehensible [1450b] and that tragedy should be composed of a single action that is whole [1451a]. The action is an account of Jerecles’s love for the princess Beatrix and takes place over the course of one day. This is more a preconceived notion of Aristotle’s unities than what he sets forth in the Poetics.
Even though it is a secondary consideration, I believe the idea of character is important. For this play, I relied heavily on archetypes instead of creating new characters. For the archetypes I mined Shakespeare. Either the characters are named after the reference, or they speak lines from the archetypical character. I see Jerecles as somewhat of a Hamlet type, something like the English version of the tragic hero who is “[s]uch a person is one who neither is superior [to us] in virtue and justice, nor undergoes a change to misfortune because of vice and wickedness, but because of some error,” [1453a]. With him being more like the audience, they are more able to meet him with recognition when he goes through his own recognition. In this case, I see the “error” as being of one of compassion and not being able to meet the expected role of general in the Army of Crete. Instead he is womanish, but this is debatable as a flaw but makes Jerecles a more sympathetic character. As for the other characters, I relied on the archetypes of King and Fool to make the characters as represented to be good, appropriate, life-like, and consistent [1454a] as Aristotle points out is positive.
I consider the catharsis two fold, based mainly on recognition, “a change from ignorance to knowledge” [1452a]. The first part where Beatrix is announced as pledged to the king of Hibernia is more a false catharsis, as the audience knows that a King’s and father’s promise is often broken by the one being promised. This is the false catharsis. Once the audience learns that Beatrix has killed herself, there is no hope for Jerecles, as he has already denounced his post as general and taken the vow as lover. Without the object of affection for his love alive, his life is meaningless. Jerecles gaining the knowledge of his beloved’s death renders his existence as a lover pointless, thus he must kill himself.
Again, working through the bounds of the constraints of Aristotle is hard for a modern writer to do, as I have a highly “cinematic” imagination for what the plot of a tragedy should look like, so I have a woven tapestry of what is good in pre-modern drama in my mind which I refer to often. In this case it is Shakespeare, and my natural mimesis reacted accordingly.

A play by J. Edgar Mihelic

Dramatis Personae

King Minos II of Crete
Jerecles, Commander of Crete Military
Falstaff Falstaff, Jester and Bard to the court of Crete

Act V

The setting: The three characters sit at a table, facing the crowd. The standard proscenium arch frames the stage. The characters appear as if they have just consumed a large meal, which in fact they have. Chicken bones and serving plates litter the table in front of the characters.

King Minos II: (raising a goblet)
The winter of our discontent
has been made glorious summer
by this radiant sun of Zeus.
And today is the greatest day,
Persephone comes from Hades
lighting the earth with Apollo’s
golden chariot, and this son
leads the way, brightening the day.
People of Crete, we shall all
give praise to this hero of Crete.
Falstaff Falstaff: (Standing and facing Jerecles)
Hero, the people demand a speech!
Jerecles: (Turning to Falstaff Falstaff)
Fool, I hear no cheers, no laughing.
People mourn husbands and brothers
playing now in Elysian
meadows and not resting their feet
in the warmth hearth of home fires.
The children of Crete are orphaned
and newly wrought widows weaving
at their looms weep silent tears.
Their grief is in the warp, the weft
full of heartache as they piece
together the weeds they will wear.
Speak not to me of this triumph
which will surely one day echo
in the petty scribbling of bards.
King Minos II: (Interrupting)
This day is surely bittersweet.
Do not mourn for those who have died
In the service of the nation.
Falstaff Falstaff:
You call yourself a warrior?
I would call you a woman, knave.
Or maybe a crying child.
Nor woman nor child am I!
I am a general who has seen
thousands of men of this country
carry the standard in battle,
and this gaze has rested over
the bodies of my countrymen
bleeding and dying on the plain
of Marathon. The dead are not mourned,
my good king. The living grieve me
more than the fortunate fallen.
The fallen now idle amongst gods.
The living will return amongst
their countrymen as maimed cripples
The dead are heroes, no matter
their bravery on the battlefield.
The living will drain the coffers
and turn their heads downward from shame.
Beatrix is among them now,
Tending the wounded at camp.
My beloved has such a strong heart!
King Minos II:
Beatrix is your beloved?
How is it that my daughter fell
into the hands of my general?
I admit it has, my good king.
Falstaff Falstaff:
Neither warrior nor lover be
If a man allows his heart
Split twain woman and his country.
King Minos II:
Falstaff Falstaff, enough of that.
Gentle general Jerecles pray
tell at what time this has begun.
Today my King, about act three.
Apollo rose to his zenith.
Beatrix and I pledged our love
And embraced under the noon sun.
We have not met since. The battle
Against the Spartans was act four.
The last lines of that act saw me
boarding a ship to return here.
King Minos II:
Why was I not aware of this?
The answer is simple, my king.
King Minos II:
Tell me as soon as you can then.
The simple fact is that no one was.
Look up King Minos. We began
with the fifth act. Who would believe
I could possibly fight a battle,
court your daughter and sail half ‘way
across the wild Aegean
in the span of one single day?
It was better to begin by
paraphrasing Shakespeare, to show
your royal erudition , the great
mind of a true king, not like
Minos who allowed the traitor
Dedalus to flee even though
His son perished in the treason.
King Minos II:
Forgive me if you confuse me.
You lack consistency at this,
A great feast honoring triumph
against the treacherous Spartans.
Your mind might not be at ease now.
I, your king and your whole country
understand. War is a struggle
in the mind, not just of body.
Jerecles, my army’s general,
with victories at Syria,
Iberia, and Albion,
upon your head rest the laurels
of victory at Marathon.
You can have the feast and laurels.
I cannot be your general ‘more.
But pray let me now be your son.
I have n’more battles to be won.
You daughter’s love is the greatest
laurel I will ever put a-head

King Minos II:
Jerecles, while my son always
will you be, for you to marry
Beatrix will you never see.
Her hand is promised to the king
of Hibernia. Her fate sealed
just today, as was the letter
I sent to her by my fastest
ship. Careless whispers in your tent
slip to the ether when compared
to priorities of kingly
conduct and international
politics. I grieve you my son
for love is not easily gained
and yours is lost soon it is won.
Take not heed these womanish things.
(Knocking at the door, stage left)
Falstaff Falstaff, Check who that is.
Perhaps my messenger returns.
(Exit FALSTAFF FALSTAFF, King Minos Turns back towards Jerecles)
My messengers are faster than
Mercury and more trustworthy.
Falstaff Falstaff:
It has been done. Beatrix,
Rosencrantz, and Guilderstern
Have been notified of the pact.
They were going to bring her back
to Crete post-haste but she has been
cast on the pyre with other fallen
heroes of today’s great battle.
She fell differently however.
Learning she had already been
pledged to the Hibernian king,
she grabbed the nearest sword and fell
on the weapon. It pierced her heart.
Jerecles: (Rising, lamenting)
Neither warrior nor lover be
Since I have allowed this frail heart
Split twain woman and his country.
All is lost, nothing more to gain.
I too shall idle with the Gods.
(Jerecles draws his weapon and exits stage right, followed by Falstaff Falstaff)

Falstaff Falstaff: (Stopping before leaving, Turning Towards KING MINOS II)
He’s stabbed himself straight through the heart
Jerecles: (Heard from the wings)
The continuance is a void
(CHORUS Sings)
A man has fallen into woe
and from this life he will now go.
Some men will say love is a flaw,
but this is not the women’s law.