“If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.”
As I continue this series about favorite writers, I am trying more and more to narrow each grouping. I am not sure this is narrowed enough, but since this is not an academic project, I will go with these groupings.
Here are a few poets, among the many possible, who are some of my favorite European poets:
Shakespeare is not only the greatest playwright, but he is also among the best poets. I have the honor this semester of teaching his poetry, and we are focusing on his sonnets, in my Renaissance Imagination class at the Wescoe School of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA. If you have not read his sonnets, then I recommend them highly. He deals with intensely personal issues that resonate throughout much poetry, of life and death, aging, time, and love.
Seamus Heaney was a brilliant poet, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature and whose work ranged from the deeply personal to that which dealt with contemporary issues in Ireland, including the Troubles to his extraordinary translation of Beowulf, the one that I use when I teach the ancient English poem.
Dante is someone whom I think all people who consider themselves to be educated, formally or self-educated, should read. His work spans the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and his extraordinary The Divine Comedy, consisting of Inferno, Hell; Purgatorio, Purgatory; and Paradiso, Paradise is one of the most crucial poems ever written. This narrative poem takes the reader through Dante’s vision of the afterlife, and he is guided by the Roman poet Virgil and then his perfect woman, Beatrice.
I chose this painting for the mood of calm it suggests, perhaps after a storm. It seems like an ideal piece to suggest that redemption is possible.
For this particular culinary and fictional interlude, I want to speak with a few characters who have achieved redemption at the end of the work in which they appear: Ebeneezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Leontes from William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and Larry Underwood from Stephen King’s The Stand. Some characters are heroic from the beginning of the story through to the end, but some, if not the complete antagonist of the tale, are deeply flawed. In the cases of these three characters they are all deeply damaged, if not morally defective, when we see them much earlier in their respective works.
I thought, given the nature of these men, an afternoon of a few glasses of ale might be the perfect way to discuss what they have learned or how they came to an understanding of what they needed to change in their lives. Scrooge, of course, had to learn not to focus his life on the acquisition and hoarding of material goods, and that people and their welfare should be his concern.
Leontes, in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, allows baseless and unprovoked jealousy to overtake him, and he becomes a vicious tyrant who casts out his loving wife and infant daughter. He also loses his son to death as a consequence of his terrible actions. It is only at the end of the play when he sees a “statue” of his wife Hermione come to life that he is able to understand the enormous errors he has made and their horrible consequences. He has to face knowing that his actions cause deep and almost unimaginable pain to other people. At the end of the play, he is a changed man, one who seemingly has grown as a result of his wife’s extraordinary act of mercy. His redemption can come only through the forgiveness of another.
At the beginning of Stephen King’s epic The Stand, Larry Underwood is a dissolute rock and roll emerging star, who has fallen prey to temptation, drugs, and a very dangerous crowd. He comes back east to visit his mother just in time for the outbreak of Captain Trips. If you have not read this book, I will go no further with the plot, but I do recommend it highly. King acknowledged that this book was his homage to Lord Of The Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien and the same level of epic sweep and individual morality and action occurs here. For Larry Underwood, his most powerful moment is that of personal sacrifice.
As a writer, a reader, and a teacher, I am very interested in how characters change within the arc of a story. I would want to ask these three how it felt to achieve their most powerful changes at or near the climax of the pieces.
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It is time to continue this series about favorite writers, and I do not think I am close to finishing it! I have many ideas in mind about writers and questions about which ones you like.
For this post, I am wondering about playwrights. I have been involved with theater and drama since I was very young. I have been an actor, a director, an acting coach, and I teach drama at college, mainly at the Wescoe School of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA.
The first of my favorite playwrights begins with the one who is the center of literature, William Shakespeare. I have also been involved with Shakespeare most of my life. I have read his plays many times, and it is difficult to choose the ones I think most important, but I will try. My favorite Shakespeare plays are A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Henry V, and Hamlet.
Arthur Miller, a modernist American playwright, worked in the 20th Century. Among his best plays are Death Of A Salesman, All My Sons, and The Crucible. His work is powerful, and he explores major themes of America and the world.
(By Thebogsideartists – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43934304)
My third choice is Brian Friel, a playwright who lived from 1929-2015. He emerged as an Irish playwright and became one of the most well known and important writers in the world. Among his plays are Translations, Dancing At Lughnasa, and Philadelphia, Here I Come!
For the next installment of this series, I wanted to focus on a few characters out of Shakespeare with whom I would like to spend a couple of hours eating, drinking, and talking. I have loved Shakespeare’s plays and poetry for much of my life. I have acted in and directed some of his work, and I have studied and taught his writing both at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA and in the Wescoe School of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA, so I would be thrilled to be able to speak to some of his characters.
I would have Hamlet, Henry V, and Macbeth as my guests. I imagine we would meet in an English tavern and have a basic meal and beer. I hope that my royal attendees would not mind not having a grand meal; I am reasonably sure that Henry V and Hamlet spent a fair amount of time in such modest places before their respective plays begin, and as a Scot and a warrior, Macbeth probably was used to basic accommodations while in the field.
I would ask them about their views of leadership and the responsibilities of a leader and about their portrayals in the plays. Henry V and Macbeth are both based on historical persons, while Hamlet is perhaps based on a real person–that is a debate for another day, so I wonder what they might have to say.
I think this would be a lively and deeply fascinating discussion.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. The Collect Works of Shakespeare 4th Edition. David
Bevington, Ed. Longman. New York. 1997.
In my classes at Lehigh University and the Wescoe School of Muhlenberg College, I sometimes do something I call — Doc Chuck’s recommended readings. I suggest a book for the students to read at another point in the future. I ask the students to write the title and author and then tell them that what they do with that information is entirely up to them. Some of these works I consider to be among the best and most important books ever written, and some I simply found to be wonderful and entertaining.
Now, the list:
Doc Chuck’s Recommended Readings:
Agee, James and Walker Evans. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.
Allende, Isabel. The House of the Spirits.
Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451.
Brown, Larry. Fay.
Cervantes, Miguel De. Don Quixote.
Delaney, Frank. Ireland.
Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities.
Doyle, Roddy. A Star Called Henry.
Eco, Umberto. The Name of the Rose.
Gaiman, Neil. American Gods.
Grass, Günter. The Tin Drum.
Helprin, Mark. A Soldier of the Great War.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . The Pacific and Other Stories.
Hemingway, Ernest. For Whom The Bell Tolls.
Homer. The Iliad.
. . . . . . . The Odyssey.
King, Stephen. Hearts In Atlantis.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . The Stand.
Lee, Harper. To Kill A Mockingbird.
Poe, Edgar Allan. Complete Works.
Rice, Anne. Interview With the Vampire.
Rowling, J. K. The entire Harry Potter series.
Shakespeare, William. The Collected Works.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein.
Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath.
Stoker, Bram. Dracula.
Tolkien, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings.
Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Zafon, Carlos Ruiz. The Shadow of the Wind.
Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief.
I am certain there are many books I have forgotten to mention. This is neither intended to be all-inclusive, nor is it meant to be authoritarian. I hope that someone may find a book or books from this list, read them, and enjoy them.
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