February 14th, 2018 by Lillian

Staging Othello (Act 1 Scene 3)

While reading the first act of Othello I was most taken with the monologue and following lines in Act One Scene 3 where Iago repeatedly tells Rodrigo to “Put money in thy purse.”

Act 1 Scene 3

IAGO:

It is merely a lust of the blood and a permission of the will. Come, be a man. Drown thyself? Drown cats and blind puppies! I have professed me thy friend, and I confess me knit to thy deserving with cables of perdurable toughness.

I could never better stead thee than now. Put money in thy purse. Follow thou the wars, defeat thy favor with an usurped beard. I say, put money in thy purse. It cannot be long that Desdemona should continue her love to the Moor—put money in thy purse—nor he his to her. It was a violent commencement in her, and thou shalt see an answerable sequestration—put but money in thy purse. These Moors are changeable in their wills—fill thy purse with money. The food that to him now is as luscious as locusts shall be to him shortly as bitter as coloquintida. She must change for youth. When she is sated with his body she will find the errors of her choice. Therefore, put money in thy purse. If thou wilt needs damn thyself, do it a more delicate way than drowning. Make all the money thou canst. If sanctimony and a frail vow betwixt an erring barbarian and supersubtle Venetian be not too hard for my wits and all the tribe of hell, thou shalt enjoy her. Therefore make money. A pox of drowning thyself! ‘Tis clean out of the way. Seek thou rather to be hanged in compassing thy joy than to be drowned and go without her.

RODERIGO
Wilt thou be fast to my hopes, if I depend on the issue?

IAGO
Thou art sure of me. Go, make money. I have told thee often, and I re-tell thee again and again, I hate the Moor. My cause is hearted. Thine hath no less reason. Let us be conjunctive in our revenge against him. If thou canst cuckold him, thou dost thyself a pleasure, me a sport. There are many events in the womb of time which will be delivered. Traverse, go, provide thy money. We will have more of this tomorrow. Adieu.

RODERIGO
Where shall we meet i’ th’ morning?

ORIGINAL TEXT

IAGO
At my lodging.

RODERIGO
I’ll be with thee betimes.

IAGO
Go to, farewell.
Do you hear, Roderigo?

RODERIGO
What say you?

IAGO
No more of drowning, do you hear?

RODERIGO
I am changed.

IAGO
Go to, farewell. Put money enough in your purse.

RODERIGO
I’ll sell all my land.

Exit

Throughout Iago’s monologue, he repeats this phrase about the money. It varies slightly with some repetitions, but for the most part, it’s the same.

The set I imagine has a central area, with a raised platform upstage right. I see this as an opportunity for a very comedic moment, as everytime Iago speaks Rodrigo he just stares back at Iago blank-faced.

It’s a funny moment because Iago is used to working either at his own personal, I assume very fast, speed or the person he’s manipulating is following along without too much prompt on his part. Rodrigo makes it impossible for Iago to move fast, and also doesn’t do what Iago repeatedly asks him.

I see Rodrigo sitting with his legs dangling off where he sits on this raised platform, looking almost childish. Meanwhile, as Iago paces, and generally commands the space of the central area, Rodrigo can’t help but watch from his perch, and Iago can’t help but become more and more frustrated with everytime Rodrigo doesn’t do what he is so explicitly asked.

I think this would be a really funny scene, especially with Iago saying this line again right before they exit, he could physically put the money int eh purse himself.

This lends itself to a nice dichotomy, especially if Rodrigo falls into the large bumbling idiot sort of look. Like a large, lost puppy. While Iago is played by someone smaller, maybe even sort of nondescript, in an offputtingly boring Micheal Cera sort of way. I think Rodrigo could also be just as plain, but it’s important that Iago is unassuming and altogether bland in his look. This gives him the physical mobility to play these games without coming across as too, well, anything.

February 14th, 2018 by Victoria

Staging Othello – Lights and Characters

The way I would stage Othello would focus on the lighting within each scene, particularly on the scenes concerning Iago (specifically pp. 48, pp.82-85, and pp. 92-94). In my opinion, Iago is the cornerstone of this play (at least so far) and if the audience understands his motives and how he is feeling, then the other characters and elements of the play will follow his lead. If I could control the lighting for each scene, I would adjust the color and pattern of each spotlight depending on what is happening in each scene and the emotions being evoked at the time. For example, with Iago’s monologue at the end of Act II Scene III, on page 94, I would put an extremely bright spotlight on him in a spiked pattern, with red surrounding the spotlight, the red slowly fading into a bright electric blue as he says the words “Dull not device by coldness and delay” (346). The red would represent his constant underlying sinister plot against Othello, while the blue seeping in at those words “Dull not device by coldness and delay” (346) would signal that is actively putting on his facade once more of calm, calculated coolness.

To me, whenever I think of characters I associate them with specific colors. Iago is red and blue. Othello is purple and yellow. Desdemona is a rosy color as well as yellow (by using yellow for both Othello and Desdemona, that would link them together visually for the viewer, beyond just knowing that they are husband and wife). Cassio is a bright fiery red, maybe green sometimes. I think it would be amazing to use these colors on stage as visual cues to the viewer as to who the characters are. Also, scenes that contain all of the characters would be amazing because if you combined all of their colors on stage at once, it would create a chaotic rainbow of sorts, sometimes beautiful but sometimes just darkness, which I think is symbolic of the play in general.

Playing with the lights on stage would be such a useful tool, especially concerning Iago since his words are so deceptive and confusing. By using lights to convey his true intentions, the viewer could at all times know what his motives are, no matter his words. Or, as Iago speaks, you could see the spotlight trained on certain characters change into different colors as Iago’s words affect them. For example, when Othello learns that Cassio was drunk and violent towards Roderigo and Montano, when he was supposed to be on guard, Othello’s spotlight could change from his purple to a saddened blue, or a lighter purple, with sparks of red thrown in between to symbolize anger. Utilizing the lights would allow so many emotions to become evident, when the language or acting might not (especially since Shakespeare’s language is so dense and requires a good deal of concentration to understand).

February 14th, 2018 by Annalee

Othello vs Get Out

If I was the new director of Othello, I would redirect Act I Scene III when Othello is trying to prove that Desdemona is in love with him to her father, Brabantio.

(Pages 60-62)

OTHELLO

Most potent, grave, and reverend signiors,

My very noble and approved good masters,

That I have ta’en away this old man’s daughter,

It is most true; true, I have married her:

The very head and front of my offending

Hath this extent, no more. Rude am I in my speech,

And little bless’d with the soft phrase of peace:

For since these arms of mine had seven years’ pith,

Till now some nine moons wasted, they have used

Their dearest action in the tented field,

And little of this great world can I speak,

More than pertains to feats of broil and battle,

And therefore little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish’d tale deliver

Of my whole course of love; what drugs, what charms,

What conjuration and what mighty magic,

For such proceeding I am charged withal,

I won his daughter.

BRABANTIO

A maiden never bold;

Of spirit so still and quiet, that her motion

Blush’d at herself; and she, in spite of nature,

Of years, of country, credit, every thing,

To fall in love with what she fear’d to look on!

It is a judgment maim’d and most imperfect

That will confess perfection so could err

Against all rules of nature, and must be driven

To find out practises of cunning hell,

Why this should be. I therefore vouch again

That with some mixtures powerful o’er the blood,

Or with some dram conjured to this effect,

He wrought upon her.

DUKE

To vouch this, is no proof,

Without more wider and more overt test

Than these thin habits and poor likelihoods

Of modern seeming do prefer against him.

First Senator

But, Othello, speak:

Did you by indirect and forced courses

Subdue and poison this young maid’s affections?

Or came it by request and such fair question

As soul to soul affordeth?

OTHELLO

I do beseech you,

Send for the lady to the Sagittary,

And let her speak of me before her father:

If you do find me foul in her report,

The trust, the office I do hold of you,

Not only take away, but let your sentence

Even fall upon my life.

DUKE

Fetch Desdemona hither.

OTHELLO

Ancient, conduct them: you best know the place.

Exeunt IAGO and Attendants.

And, till she come, as truly as to heaven

I do confess the vices of my blood,

So justly to your grave ears I’ll present

How I did thrive in this fair lady’s love,

And she in mine.

 

This scene reminded me of the movie Get Out, directed by Jordan Peele. In Get Out, Chris, an African-American man, goes to meet his white girlfriend’s parents for a weekend. Initially welcomed with open arms, Chris begins to notice weird activities going on around the house that leads him to discover how Rose’s parents feel about their interracial relationship. In the movie, Chris is evidently in love with Rose, but he begins to feel as though Rose’s family and their white friends do not see eye to eye with Chris. While there are many plot differences between Get Out and Othello, they both discuss racism and the belief of white supremacy. In Othello, Brabantio can’t seem to comprehend how Desdemona could be in love and married to a Moor and he is convinced that the only reason this could even be possible is through witchcraft: “I therefore vouch again/ That with some mixtures powerful o’er the blood,/Or with some dram conjured to this effect,/He wrought upon her”(105-109). In Get Out, Rose is the one who is accused of using trickery to trick Chris into believing that she is in love with him just so she can fulfill her parents’ twisted plan. If I were to cast a new production of Othello, I would cast Daniel Kaluuya, who portrays Chris from Get Out, as Othello, however, I would not cast Allison Williams, who portrays Rose, as Desdemona because she is too clever and twisted. At least so far, Desdemona seems devoted to loving Othello regardless of her father’s opinion and there are no tricks involved. Despite Rose’s father being in support of his daughter’s relationship so that he can use Chris, Bradley Whitford can still portray Brabantio because it is evident that he exercises racism and sets himself distinctly apart from Chris and African-Americans. The parallels between the themes and characters of more recent Get Out and an older text such as Othello present the greater idea that racism and segregation are still relevant topics in society and there is still room for improvement.

February 14th, 2018 by nguyetra

Staging of Shakespeare’s “Othello”: A domestic tragedy

The lights suddenly go out at once. The orchestra strikes up an abrupt, dramatic composition. As the curtain rises, excited chatters immediately fade into thin air and an absolute silence descends over the crowd. Then there is no other sound but the singing of a man who just walks on the front stage, whose expressions are of anger and exasperation:
“Tush, never tell me! I take it much unkindly…”

These images kept on floating around my head as I thought about the staging of “Othello.” Classical music, checked. Competent actors, checked. Effective stage lighting, checked. It seemed to me as if everything was ready and all it took was a simple call “Let the play begin!” I hesitated nonetheless: a small, irritating voice in the back of my mind told me not to start just yet – there was still an absent element.

It was not until I saw the term “claustrophobia” in a reading about Shakespeare’s works did I realize this was the missing piece: My “Othello” must be performed on a cramped, cluster-like stage! A highly concentrated and tightly constructed play, Othello is considered one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies for its domestic violence nature. The play’s lack of subplot for relief as well as great emphasis on too few a number of main characters simultaneously contribute to its claustrophobic effect, which highlights the inevitable tragedy of the main character.

It is evident that locations matter in “Othello.” At first, the plot begins with two spacious cities: Venice and Cyprus. Later on, the outer world in “Othello” gradually loses significance as the play’s focus becomes narrower and narrower, shrinking into a single spot – the family of Othello and Desdemona. The concept of claustrophobia dominates the play: its characters interdependent in a confined social setting where each individual holds a defined position, its storyline intense and compressed, its scenes confrontational and violent-oriented, its tension ever-increasing. As the scenes shift from a vast and prosperous Venice to a familial setting, the once kind-hearted protagonist slowly turns into a monster in his own home.

Shakespeare “Othello” is a terrifying journey into the human heart. Narrowed with very little space, the heart leaves no room for morality and love once it is filled with hatred and suspicion. The sense of claustrophobia is a fundamental factor for the success of “Othello”, one that I will try my best to portray in the production of this all-time domestic tragedy.

February 14th, 2018 by Elizabeth

Staging Othello (pp.62-64)

Staging Othello

If I were to direct a new production of Othello, I would change the location to bring new insights to the play and audience. To give an example of the new staging I would produce of Othello, I chose this specific moment to look at:

 

Act 1, Scene 3 (Pp. 62-64)

OTHELLO

Her father loved me, oft invited me,

Still questioned me the story of my life

From year to year, the battles, sieges, fortunes,

That I have passed.

I ran it through, even from my boyish days,

To th’ very moment that he bade me tell it,

Wherein I spoke of most disastrous chances,

Of moving accidents by flood and field,

Of hair-breadth ’scapes i’ th’ imminent deadly breach,

Of being taken by the insolent foe

And sold to slavery, of my redemption thence

And portance in my traveler’s history.

Wherein of antres vast and deserts idle,

Rough quarries, rocks, hills whose heads touch heaven

It was my hint to speak—such was my process—

And of the Cannibals that each others eat,

The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads

Grew beneath their shoulders. These things to hear

Would Desdemona seriously incline.

But still the house affairs would draw her hence,

Which ever as she could with haste dispatch,

She’d come again, and with a greedy ear

Devour up my discourse, which I, observing,

Took once a pliant hour and found good means

To draw from her a prayer of earnest heart

That I would all my pilgrimage dilate,

Whereof by parcels she had something heard

But not intentively. I did consent,

And often did beguile her of her tears

When I did speak of some distressful stroke

That my youth suffered. My story being done

She gave me for my pains a world of sighs.

She swore, in faith, ’twas strange, ’twas passing strange,

‘Twas pitiful, ’twas wondrous pitiful.

She wished she had not heard it, yet she wished

That heaven had made her such a man. She thanked me

And bade me, if I had a friend that loved her,

I should but teach him how to tell my story

And that would woo her. Upon this hint I spake.

She loved me for the dangers I had passed,

And I loved her that she did pity them.

This only is the witchcraft I have used.

Here comes the lady. Let her witness it.

 

Enter DESDEMONAIAGO, and attendants

 

DUKE

I think this tale would win my daughter too.

Good Brabantio. Take up this mangled matter at the best.

Men do their broken weapons rather use

Than their bare hands.

  

BRABANTIO

I pray you, hear her speak.

If she confess that she was half the wooer,

Destruction on my head if my bad blame

Light on the man.—Come hither, gentle mistress.

Do you perceive in all this noble company

Where most you owe obedience?

 

DESDEMONA

My noble father,

I do perceive here a divided duty.

To you I am bound for life and education.

My life and education both do learn me

How to respect you. You are the lord of duty.

I am hitherto your daughter. But here’s my husband.

And so much duty as my mother showed

To you, preferring you before her father,

So much I challenge that I may profess

Due to the Moor my lord.

 

BRABANTIO

God be with you. I have done.

Please it your grace, on to the state affairs.

I had rather to adopt a child than get it.

Come hither, Moor.                             [He joins the hands of Othello and Desdemona.]

I here do give thee that with all my heart

Which, but thou hast already, with all my heart

I would keep from thee. For your sake, jewel,

I am glad at soul I have no other child.

For thy escape would teach me tyranny,

To hang clogs on them.—I have done, my lord.

 

To debrief what you just read, essentially, Desdemona is torn between her father and Othello—who should she respect or be with more? Desdemona had fallen in love with Othello through the stories he had shared with her. Desdemona decides her husband is essentially more important to have in her life. Her father, Brabantio, is almost forced to give his blessing. One could interpret this is emotionally hard for Brabantio, especially since Desdemona is his only child.

 

The original setting of this scene is at a “table, with lights.” However, because of the emotional strings that come along with eloping, and marrying into ones family for life suggests a more intimate setting. While a table invites a serious yet trusting atmosphere, the level or amount of emotions and love might require more space to walk/ get up and digest the heaviness of information being presented. With that in mind, as the director, I would have the setting/ or conversation take place at a pool table. The characters would have this serious, heavy talk with a distraction in front of them to let out any pint up feelings.

 

While a pool table might seem strange, it would specifically allow Desdemona’s father to have an outlet. One might infer that he is angry, or even jealous, and possibly skeptical of this “black” man, Othello, more commonly called the “Moore.” Therefore, a distraction would be beneficial. Also because this conversation has a more serious tone, the setting might complement or bring out a more relaxed side of the characters allowing them to be completely honest and genuine.

Image result for pool table settings shakespeare othello

 

As you can see in this photo, and in most pool settings men seem to take over the room. Therefore, I would place Desdemona off to the side of the pool table, watching her father, Othello, and the Duke playing while talking to them all. Also some fathers, and in this case specifically Brabantio is quite attached to his daughter and is probably having a hard time giving her up to another man. The pool setting could be a way for Othello to prove his manliness, and worthiness. The fact that Desdemona would even be in this room shows the depth in which she loves Othello.

Do you think the setting is “fair” (that reoccurring word) to Desdemona? Or should there be a scene that is more inviting or inclusive?

February 13th, 2018 by Marissa

Staging Othello (pgs. 49-50)

If I was the new director of Othello, although I would need to study the book for much longer, one of the scenes that stood out the most to me was on pages 49 to 50, when Iago and Roderigo wake up Brabantio at his window. This is the passage:

Iago:

Awake! What ho, Brabantio! Thieves, thieves, thieves!

Look to your house, your daughter, and your bags!

Thieves, thieves!

Brabantio [enters] above, [at a window].*

Brabantio:

What is the reason of this terrible summons?

What is the matter there?

Roderigo:

Signor, is all your family within?

Iago:

Are your doors locked?

Brabantio: Why, wherefore ask you this?

Iago:
Zounds, sir, you’re robbed. For shame, put on your gown!

Your heart is burst; you have lost half your soul.

Even now, now, very now, an old black ram

Is tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise!

Awake the snorting citizens with the bell,

Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you.

Arise, I say!

Brabantio: What, have you lost your wits?

Roderigo:

Most reverend signor, do you know my voice?

Brabantio: Not I. What are you?

Roderigo: My name is Roderigo.

Brabantio: The worser welcome.

I have charged thee not to haunt about my doors.

In honest plainness thou hast heard me say

My daughter is not for thee; and now, in madness

Being full of supper and distempt ring drafts,

Upon malicious bravery dost thou come

To start my quiet.

Roderigo:

Sir, sir, sir —

Brabantio: But thou must needs be sure

My spirits and my place have in their power

To make this bitter to thee.

Roderigo: Patience, good sir.

(pgs. 49-50)

This passage stuck out to me because I read it as if once Brabantio was actually awake, he did not listen to what they had to say before he started telling them that he had the power to make sure that they paid for waking him up. Brabantio does not even know the real reason that they are at his house until after. In the beginning, Iago is just yelling this at Brabantio’s window and I picture him having a smile on his face and the words coming out of his mouth with a  mocking tone. I read most of this passage with a mocking tone from Iago, and Roderigo was just doing what he was told. I see them standing underneath the balcony of Brabantio’s window yelling to him while he is in pajamas.

When Brabantio walks out he is confused and just wants to know why they woke him up in the middle of the night screaming at his window. Iago and Roderigo start instantly asking him questions without giving him any context because Iago is only there because he is up to no good and Roderigo is going along with him. When Iago says, “For shame, put on your gown! Your heart is burst; you have lost half your soul” (49). I picture Iago mocking Brabantio looking up at him in what he is dressed in to sleep. Iago instantly tells him that he needs to make all of the citizens around them in Venice aware that his daughter has been “stolen,” because she is technically his property until she gets married to someone that he chooses, and there is no time to sleep.

Brabantio thinks that they are crazy for saying all of this because he does not think that he has been robbed and still does not know what they are referring to. Roderigo takes it upon himself to ask if Brabantio knows him and tells him who he is because he thinks that it will make him a more reliable source. Brabantio then mocks them saying that his daughter is not going to marry either of them and now they came to disrupt his quiet and he has the power to make them pay for it. Roderigo mocks him and tries to explain to him that they did not come to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage, but instead to tell him that Desdemona has run off and eloped with Othello, the Moor.

I would make sure that Othello’s character was a great actor because he is always mocking someone or using someone to get what he wants. In this case, he is using Roderigo, which makes me think that Roderigo’s character is not that intelligent or he just does not care. Brabantio’s character acts like he is all high and mighty and no one is better than him, and portrays that he has a lot of power to everyone that he meets almost instantly. If I were to cast this play, I would make sure that each of these characters had actors that would fit their personalities within these scenes to make sure that their true emotions come through, especially Iago.

January 29th, 2018 by Annalee

“Elegy” in Music

Definition of “elegy” in the Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms:

“Elegy. An elaborately formal *lyrics poem lamenting the death of a friend of a public figure, or reflecting seriously on a solemn subject. In Greek and Latin verse, the term referred to the *metre of a poem (alternating in dactylic *hexameters and *pentameters in couplets known as elegiac *distichs), not to its mood or content: love poems were often included. Likewise, John Donne applied the term to his amorous and satirical poems in *heroic couplets. But since Milton’s ‘Lycidas’ (1637), the term in English has usually denoted a *lament (although Milton called his poem a ‘monody’), while the adjective ‘elegiac’ has come to refer to the mournful mood of such poems. Two important English elegies that follow Milton in using *pastoral conventions are Shelley’s ‘Adonais’ (1821) on the death of Keats, and Arnold’s ‘Thyrsis’ (1867). This tradition of the pastoral elegy, derived from Greek poems by Theocritus and other Sicilian poets in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE, evolved a very elaborate series of *conventions by which the dead friend is represented as a shepherd mourned by the natural world; pastoral elegies usually include many mythological figures such as the nymphs who are supposed to have guarded the dead shepherd, and the *muses invoked by the elegist. Tennyson’s In Memoriam A. H. H. (1850) is a long series of elegiac verses (in the modern sense) on his friend Arthur Hallam, while Whitman’s ‘When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d’ friend; Auden’s ‘In Memory of W.B. Yeats’ (1939) does the same. In a broader sense, an elegy may be a poem of melancholy reflection upon life’s transience or its sorrows, as in Gray’s ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’ (1751), or in Rilke’s Duino Elegies (1912-22). The elegiac stanza is a *quatrain of iambic pentameters rhyming abab, named after its use in Gray’s elegy.”

The song I chose to represent elegy is “Empty Chairs At Empty Tables” from the musical Les Miserables. To give some background: all of Marius’s friends have died fighting at the barricade and he was injured, but somehow survived and has returned all alone to where his friends used to meet and is understandably mournful. “Empty Chairs At Empty Tables” is an elegy because Marius is mourning and grieving his friends’ deaths as he recalls how they used to gather here and talk about their revolution. He can’t seem to quite cope with the fact that he somehow survived and every one of them died. Marius is lamenting his dead friends thru this song exactly as an elegy does. In fact, songs are typically poems that are set to music and therefore, “Empty Chairs At Empty Tables” is an elegy put to music. There is an evident mournful and somber mood to this song as he notices that every chair is empty, excluding his, and how his “friends will sing no more” because they’re gone. There’s evident regret as Marius cannot answer their haunting question of what their sacrifice was for.

When I had first heard this song, it’s apparent that it’s a song full of grief and there’s an immediate tone shift from the scene before in which the students are frantically firing back at the French army. This song almost follows the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Marius is in denial when he thinks he can see the “phantom faces” of his friends in the window as if they are still alive and with him. As the song builds, Marius becomes more upset and more angry asking why he was allowed to survive. This also connects to the bargaining aspect as he thinks that either he should be among the dead with them or they should be alive and well with him. Marius is quite depressed as he claims “there’s a grief that can’t be spoken” and how he is no longer sure of what their sacrifice was for in the first place. As the song comes to a close, Marius is greeted by Cosette and accepts that he is the only one that remains. The grief and mourning of his friends makes this song a perfect example of an elegy.

“Empty Chairs At Empty Tables”

There’s a grief that can’t be spoken,

There’s a pain goes on and on.

Empty chairs at empty tables,

Now my friends are dead and gone.

 

Here they talked of revolution,

Here it was they lit the flame,

Here they sang about tomorrow,

And tomorrow never came.

 

From the table in the corner,

They could see a world reborn,

And they rose with voices ringing,

And I can hear them now

The very words that they had sung

Became their last communion

On this lonely barricade, at dawn.

 

Oh my friends, my friends forgive me

That I live and you are gone

There’s a grief that can’t be spoken,

There’s a pain goes on and on

 

Phantom faces at the windows

Phantom shadows on the floor,

Empty chairs at empty tables

Where my friends will meet no more.

 

Oh my friends, my friends, don’t ask me

What your sacrifice was for

Empty chairs at empty tables

Where my friends will sing no more.

 

Lyrics cited:

https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/lesmiserablescast/emptychairsatemptytables.html

 

January 29th, 2018 by Lillian

“Lament” in Music

Lament: Any poem expressing profound grief or mournful regret for the loss of some person or former state, or for some other misfortune. 

Reading this definition, my first thought was “oh, a lament is a ballad.” While the Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms does not agree with me[1] in the world of musical theater, the slow, emotional songs of loss are generally referred to as ballads. In addition, there are tons of slow breakup “laments” in more mainstream music. I mean, just look at Bruno Mars’ early discography or really that of any successful pop musician. The cry yourself to sleep breakup song is an essential track on any album.[2]

But that felt a little like a cop-out so I’m challenging myself in finding as close to an up-tempo lament as I can.[3]

The trick here is the requirement of regret. There are so many great up-tempo breakup songs that focus on moving past the hurt and saying screw you to the time spent in the relationship. There’s a regret, but it’s not for the loss, it’s for the fact that it didn’t come sooner. Everyone loves CeeLo Green’s ultimate declaration of F**k You to his former flame, but it doesn’t create any regret for losing them.

Sara Bareilles’s Little Black Dress creates a middle ground. The song is relatively uptempo, following suit with the dance away your troubles style previously acknowledged, but even in the chorus she never moves fully past the hurt of the loss of a relationship.

The opening lyrics are:

Okay, I can see it now it’s all the same thing
Just different wrapping around it
No need to soften your words, they’re still gonna hurt
So don’t pull punches[4]

Already it’s clear that this is about a breakup, which is a pretty classic example of loss in music. And Bareilles acknowledges that the hurt is still relevant, which sets it apart from other songs in a similar musical style.

The chorus of the song really establishes this feeling of trying to achieve the up-tempo “screw you” attitude while really being overwhelmed with feelings of sorrow and regret:

I’ll get my little black dress on
And if I put on my favorite song
I’m gonna dance until you’re all gone
I’ll get my little black dress on
I got my little black dress on
And if I tell myself that nothing’s wrong
This doesn’t have to be a sad song
Not with my little black dress on

There’s an effort being made to mask the regret with dancing and clothing, which makes it possible for Sara Bareilles to keep an up-tempo melody while also qualifying this as a lament. It’s an interesting balance, that, to me, makes it even more effective. When people are mournful there is often a large effort to cheer them up, whether by other people or on an individual basis, but this doesn’t end the sorrow or longing for what has been lost.

[1] Ballad: A folk song or orally transmitted poem telling in a direct and dramatic manner some popular story usually derived from a tragic incident in local history or legend. The story is told simply, impersonally, and often with vivid dialogue.

[2] Some of my favorite slow laments are When I Was Your Man by Bruno Mars and Back to December by Taylor Swift.

[3] I could have gone with the comedy classic “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” by Elmo & Patsy, but I thought I should find something a little more nuanced.

[4] All lyrics from https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/sarabareilles/littleblackdress.html

January 29th, 2018 by nguyetra

“Apostrophe” in Music: why talking to your laptop matters

An apostrophe is a rhetorical technique that is used with such a high frequency in lyrics writing…

Wait, what?
Isn’t apostrophe a punctuation mark?
You are probably wondering about the relationship between a punctuation mark and a song’s lyrics. Who uses this “;” in a song anyway?
Let me tell you this. Apostrophe is what you hear and use daily without even recognizing. You might as well be speaking something apostrophic or listening to an apostrophic song on your phone right now.
This is the part when I clear up the confusion and tell you what apostrophe actually means in this context. So here it goes:

apostrophe (n): a rhetorical figure in which the speaker addresses a dead or absent person, or an abstraction or inanimate object.

Remember that computer rage when you yelled “Shoot, why aren’t you even loading?” at an empty screen or when you had that perfect, lukewarm coffee and rambled on for half an hour just to show your endless affections to Starbucks?
Well, that is definitely your apostrophic soul talking.

A perfect example of an apostrophe would be Jonathan Coulton’s lovely piece:

“Here you are at last
To bring my cold lonely soul sweet release
From my weary past
Always searching, the one missing piece was you…

This verse paints the image of a love-struck man whose past is filled with melancholy and sorrow. On a tedious and seemingly endless journey, he searches for a shelter to harbor his lonesome soul and longs for a home where he can truly be at rest. The man rejoices at finding his other half, a “missing piece” that will fulfill his heart and free him from bygone burdens. The lyrics illustrate a sheer contrast between the character’s past and present, transitioning from the initial state when all he could feel was “cold and lonely” to a liberating and overwhelming happiness since love comes to his life.

The song will be just another ordinary and monotonous love confession without the use of an apostrophe. Luckily, Jonathan does not stop there. The song continues with these hilarious lines:

“…And I beg you, come away with me
And together we will find a place to call our own
I can’t wait to see what I can do
With a laptop like you.”

A laptop like you by Jonathan Coulton.

After all those lip-to-ear rhymes, sweet nothings, and “Let’s-run-away-together-to-a-distant-land” promises, it is quite astonishing for the listener to realize that the character is indeed talking to a laptop. In this amusing song, an apostrophe is used to generate an element of surprise. By conversing with a laptop as if he is whispering honeyed words to an ideal lover, the writer has succeeded in throwing the listeners for a loop and thus, making his song memorable.

Understanding the technique of apostrophe brings a new and more profound perspective to the song “A laptop like you.” With such a lens in mind, the listener can apprehend how Jonathan Coulton employs different layers of meanings to add humor and wit into his lyrics. On a broader note, an apostrophe is a literary device that is widely applied in the arts to express emotions delicately. By addressing a third party who is not present or an inanimate object which is unable to feel or convey sentiments, a character is indeed demonstrating his or her emotional state.

Lyrics cited: A laptop like you.

January 29th, 2018 by Victoria

“Blazon” Literary Term In Music

Definition of “blazon” in the Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms:

“A poetic catalogue of a woman’s admirable physical features, common in Elizabethan lyric poetry: an extended example in Sidney’s ‘What tongue can her perfections tell?’ The Petrarchan conventions of the blazon include a listing of parts from the hair down, and the use of hyperbole and simile in describing lips like coral, teeth like pearls, and so on. These conventions are mocked in the tradition of the counter-blazon, of which the best-known example is Shakespeare’s 130th sonnet, ‘My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun'”.

I chose two songs to represent the term “blazon” because I think they both represent the term in different ways. The first song I chose was “Your Body Is A Wonderland” by John Mayer. I chose this song because of these lyrics: “Your skin like porcelain / One pair of candy lips and / Your bubblegum tongue”, as well as “Your body is a wonderland” and “you look so good it hurts sometimes”. The first set of lyrics relate to blazon because of the simile “your skin like porcelain” and the hyperbole of the phrases “candy lips” and “bubblegum tongue”. The woman Mayer is addressing of course does not possess those attributes in the literal sense, but in choosing to describe her physical features in such a way, he is highlighting them in a more dramatic, poetic fashion, which is the purpose behind blazon. The second set of phrases are less specific in their description but also emphasis this woman’s physical beauty. The phrasing suggests an awed, almost reverent tone.

The second song I chose was “Hell On The Heart” by Eric Church. The lines I want to focus on are “She’s as pretty as a picture / Every bit as funny as she is smart / Got a smile that’ll hold you together / And a touch that’ll tear you apart”. These lines, although not as poetically physically descriptive as the Mayer song, also describe a woman’s physical features in the form of similes. Church’s phrases are more abstract than Mayer’s, and also include a description of the woman’s personality instead of solely focusing on her body.

I thought these examples of blazon were interesting because they both fit the term in different ways. Church’s song, though more polite and abstract, as well as less suggestive, was also less poetic in terms of its description. Listening to the two songs, I was struck by their contrasting sounds. Mayer’s song was soft and melodic, while Church’s was a more fast-paced country song. I felt that it would almost make more sense if the lyrics between the two songs were switched to each other’s separate melodies. It made me think of how blazon is a very general term and can be used in different tones to produce varied effects, even if the writers/lyricists are technically employing the same literary device.

 

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