The Matrix Meets Midsummer Night’s Dream

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Neo puts a hand to his head and touches his hair. This….this isn’t

real?

No, it is the mental projection…of your digital self. Lovers and

Madmen have such seething Brains, such shaping Phantasies, that

apprehend  More than cool Reason ever comprehends.

This_ is the world that you know. The world as it was at the end

of the twentieth century. It exists now only as part of a neural-interactive

simulation, that _we_ call the Matrix.  You’ve been living in a dream world, Neo.

This…is the world as it exists today. Are you sure that we are awake? 

It seems to me that yet we sleep, we dream.

What _is_ real? How do you _define_ real? If you’re

talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste

and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.

Tell them that I, Pyramus am not Pyramus, but Bottom the Weaver,

this will put them out of fear.

The earth, scorched . . .the desert of the real…We have only

bits and pieces of information, but what we know for certain

is that some point in the early twenty-first century

all of mankind was united in celebration, and then apocalypse.

We marvelled at our own magnificence…. the poet’s eye turns dreams to shapes and gives

to airy nothing a local habitation and a Name. . .

A singular consciousness that spawned an entire race -then you will see, it is

not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.

If we Shadows have offended

think but this, and all is mended: that you have slumbered here while these

Visions did appear and this weak and idle Theme, no more yielding but a Dream.

Voyager

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I don’t pretend this amounts to much as poetry – more of a rant? But I needed to get it off my chest. I think it was Carl Sagan who referred to planet Earth as being a dust mote caught in a sunbeam. Voyager took this photo as it hurtled away from the solar system. The image was recently chosen by Sky at Night as one out of ten iconic/significant images taken by telescopes/cameras.

What came to mind was the insignificance of the Earth on the cosmic scale and comparing its relative physical size with our triumphs of the spirit and our depravities – which of course were not recorded on the gold disc in the Voyager space craft! So although it is unlikely that any intelligent aliens will ever come into contact with it they would get a rather sanitised picture of what we are like. Perhaps I tend to be pessimistic about humanity but on the other hand I think it is important to acknowledge the dark with the light. That’s just being realistic!

How can a dust mote caught in the solar wind

contain a nightingale’s song

or the awful trumpeting of the last elephant?

How can a dust mote caught in the solar wind

contain Michelangelo’s ceiling

or Bach’s Mass in B Minor?

How can a dust mote caught in the solar wind

contain so much incinerator smoke

or the bits and pieces of suicide bombers?

How can a dust mote caught in the solar wind

contain the nightmares of a million children

sleeping in the streets?

How can a dust mote caught in the solar wind

contain the lobster’s quadrille

or the Cheshire Cat’s Grin?

How can a dust mote caught in the solar wind

contain the watery dreams

of the last few cavorting dolphins?

How can a dust mote caught in the solar wind

contain Ivan Ilyich’s redemption

or weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in?

(Soon to disappear into deep space

carrying our triumphs but

leaving our depravities unrecorded.)

Fassbender’s Macbeth

Fassbender

As it is National Poetry Day in the UK, on Thurs 8 Oct, I decided to commission myself. You can read the resulting poem below.
Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth made great use of location cinematography at Bamburgh Castle and the Northumberland coast (UK) – only an hour’s drive from me!
Critics seem divided about the film, either raving about it or denouncing it. I enjoyed it but am somewhere in the middle, neither thinking it was a great film or massively inferior. I don’t think this film is alone in not conveying the poetry of Shakespeare’s language. Macbeth is perhaps Shakespeare’s bleakest play and Kurzel portrays the bloody violence and the dark tones, both visually and symbolically.

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Silver Screen is a film club for the over sixties.

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An afternoon at the cinema

Today I joined Silver-Screen – paid at the desk
grabbed a tea and biscuit along with
my concessionary ticket and edged along
row R to my seat. It’s a film noir – there’s dark
within and without I see – or is it a dagger (?)
it’s a pivotal point – my neighbour begins
to snore – a counterpoint to the minimal score.

Fassbender’s Macbeth is macho; testosterone-fuelled,
sleeping Duncan soon despatched. He’ll snore
no more. There’s no porter at the doors of hell
to offer comic relief; cut to blood and fleshy
apparition at the creaking dining table in the hall.
My neighbour’s crunching crisps; more minimalist
seasoning to the soundtrack. Murder most foul.

The credits go on and on – then we discuss the tragedy.
One woman thinks the death agonies of Macbeth
Pythonesque, all the women drool over Fassbender –
I wonder about the milk of human kindness. Yes,
it’s a film noir; get over it one man says
it was dog eat dog in those days, you had to have
your wits about you no time for sweet airy nothings.
Amen sticks in my throat. My neighbour stands,
coughs and shuffles towards the lighted Exit.

Portrait of Annick

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This is a painting I did way back in 1966 of my (then) French girlfriend. That’s 49 years ago when I was 20! Oh, where are you now Annick? One of the lecturers at college, who saw it, had the audacity to say he could see an expresssion of love in the painting!

All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and entrances. And one man in his time plays many parts. His acts being seven ages.

Caliban’s Last Stand

This is a poem and video I made for Shakespeare In Community online course. After you’ve watched my video you may be interested in a talk about Caliban given by Bruce Pattinson on Total Education – top left on the video collage.

Caliban Alone

My keeper left me on this Isle, free of chains; now
I’ll be steward to this Eden, free to govern golden
earth; to cultivate and grow figs and dates, and feast on fish
and crabs from the shore. I’ll drink from the best springs,
pluck the ripest berries and filch the blue bird’s nest.
Thus will I live unto my last expiring breath.
All I lack is a prosperous maid, but hark, I’ll prosper
on Fortune’s winds. I have Ariel’s rainbow music
to soothe my lonely soul. Farewell, be sorrow’s maid
and think of all this fleeting world as a star at dawn,
a bubble in a stream, a child’s laugh, a phantasm, a dream.
We are such stuff – Farewell – I’ve wood to fetch, meanwhile.

To Be Or Not To Be

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Jonathon Slinger as Hamlet
To be or not to be is not just about the contemplation of suicide; it is also about procrastination and the disjunction between thought and action.
Hamlet’s inability to act quickly is mirrored in the Pyrrhus play in Act 2,2 – ‘Pyrrhus stood/And like a neutral to his will and matter/Did nothing.’ When the Ghost first appears to Hamlet and reveals the King has been murdered by Claudius there is deep irony in Hamlet’s response: ‘Haste me to know’t with wings as swift/As meditation or the thoughts of love/May sweep to my revenge.’ (Act 1, 5) Surely the first audiences would have been puzzled by Hamlet’s delay for the rest of the play? (Although Dover Wilson, in What Happens in Hamlet, is among those who think Hamlet was modelled on the Earl of Essex who plotted against Queen Elizabeth and was executed. That still leaves the question: Would the audiences have accepted his delay as simply a characteristic of the melancholic?)
Laertes also mirrors Hamlet in many ways; he too wishes to avenge his father. However, he is more like the conventional hero of the Revenge Tragedy. He doesn’t allow ‘the native hue of resolution’ to be thwarted by too much thinking! When Claudius asks him how ‘to show yourself in deed your father’s son.’ Laertes replies, ‘To cut his throat in th’ church.’ (Act 4,7)
Fortinbras too mirrors Hamlet in that he is avenging his father. But, like Laertes, is hot tempered – of ‘choleric humour.’ (‘Of unimproved mettle, hot and full..’) He is contrasted with the indecisiveness of Hamlet as he ‘Hath in the skirts of Norway here and there/Sharked up a list of lawless resolutes.’ (Act 1,1)
These duplicities underline Shakespeare’s aim of exploring the relationships between thought, intention and action in the context of an increasingly humanistic influence.
The play is peppered with variations on Shakespeare’s ‘all the world’s a stage’ conceit. In the Player’s Play the 1st Player sheds tears for a fictitious Hecuba. Hamlet observes, ‘ Tears in his eyes… A broken voice… And all for nothing!’ (Act 2,2) There is that incredible moment in the film The Truman Show where the eponymous hero sails up against a painted sky and realises for the first time that his whole life has been one long ‘performance’ carefully stage-managed. It is a truly chilling moment and owes something, I think, to the concept of Theatrum Mundi and George Gurdjieff’s idea that we are all automata wound up like clockwork; a kind of psychological determinism. The more subtle differences between appearance and reality are explored in modernism and post-modernism but were already centre stage in Shakespeare. We are all familiar with hypocrisy. Hamlet comments on Claudius thus, ‘That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain. . .’ (Act 1, 5) This is an unambiguous example of the disparity between body and mind. Some cynics have said that the distinguishing fact differentiating us from other animals is that we are experts in lying!
W.H. Auden in his Lectures on Shakespeare points out that many of the soliloquies are ‘detachable’ from the play – they can be understood as stand -alone ‘philosophy’ addressed to humanity.
When Hamlet says, ‘Give me that man/That is not passion’s slave,’ he is again speaking for us all.
The scene where Hamlet goads Guildenstern with: ‘You would play upon me, you would seem to/know my stops, you would pluck out the heart of my mystery, you would sound me from the lowest note…’ (Act 3, 2) brings to mind Eric Berne’s Games People Play. Here is a summary of one of these ‘games’ called, See What You Have Made Me Do:
First-Degree SWYMD: White, feeling unsociable, becomes engrossed in some activity which tends to insulate him against people. Perhaps all he wants at the moment is to be left alone. An intruder, such as his wife or one of his children, comes either for [affection] or to ask him something like, “Where can I find the long-nosed pliers?” This interruption “causes” his chisel, paintbrush, typewriter or soldering iron to slip, whereupon he turns on the intruder in a rage and cries, “See what you made me do.” As this is repeated through the years, his family tends more and more to leave him alone when he is engrossed. Of course it is not the intruder but his own irritation which “causes” the slip, and he is only too happy when it occurs, since it gives him a lever for ejecting the visitor. Unfortunately, this is a game which is only too easily learned by young children, so that it is easily passed on from generation to generation.
What could be more relevant to us today than the relationship between will, thought, emotion, intention, authenticity and moral choice. We overestimate free will in our personal lives and in society. Think, for example, of violence in young men triggered by a surge of testosterone. Think of political figures who are galvanised into action by vested interests such as financial gain or those who act upon the unconscious nudge towards increased status. With the character of Hamlet, Shakespeare was anticipating the latest discoveries in neurology. Books such as Steven Pinker’s, How the Mind Works suggest that we are all – to some extent – puppets, dancing to a synaptic symphony conducted deep within our squishy brains! Now, instead of humours and providence being our masters we have chemical messengers, genes, defence mechanisms and societal conditioning.
The only way to live authentically is by constant vigilance towards the workings of our own minds. The Ancient Greek’s, Know Thyself has come full circle with the various mindfulness practices which are becoming more widespread today. If Hamlet had practised something of this sort he would not have descended into chaos; but then we wouldn’t have the play with its high tragedy, complex psychology and deeply pessimistic message.

Hamlet: Existential Man

I lost my ‘Dashboard’ from my blog so am just posting a new blog to see if the thing is still working!

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I am presently doing a free online course about Hamlet with ‘FutureLearn’. This is a charcoal drawing I did over ten years ago. You can click on the drawing and it will enlarge. Perhaps Hamlet, with his introspection and procrastination, can be thought of as one of the first existential heroes in fiction.