Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Thoughts on “Dark Ages: Nosferatu”

March 28, 2023

So as I’ve said before, what I’m currently reading in the time I have set aside just to read — which is generally while eating or watching curling or baseball — is a collection of White Wolf Vampire the Masquerade novels set in the Dark Ages — yes, that’s the name of the series — that I had picked up from a used bookstore ages ago, tried reading once at lunch but never managed to finish.  Sorting through my boxes of old books I came across them and set out to finally finish reading them.

The first book in the series starts with the famous sacking of Constantinople. A leader of the Noserferatu, Malachite, recounts to us that the leaders of the city, especially the Ventrue Michael, had been predicting that this would become a great, golden city represented by Michael’s Dream for the Cainites (vampires, which in this universe are seen as being caused by the curse God put on Caine).  Malachite is deeply attached to the Dream, and sets out to see if Michael still lives and so if the Dream still lives.  Once he discovers that Michael is dead, he sets out to find one of the others who created the Dream with Michael to see if the Dream can be reborn.  He also becomes attached to a human servant of another Cainite from another clan, who is transferred to him so that her mistress, Alexia, can come with him to seek out an oracle of her clan and so that he might ask a question on Alexia’s behalf.  After a number of travails, they make it to the oracle they are seeking, only to have it revealed that he had indeed met with the Cainite he sought and was rejected by him because he treated him like an insane old man, and Alexia does not get her answer either.  And, even worse, the human he cared for ended up being the sacrifice he needed to make to get the oracle in the first place.

When I was doing my reading of historical works, this siege came up a number of times because of the folly of a Christian Crusade’s only achievement being the sacking and burning of a major Christian city.  What was nice about this book is that it really does dive into what that experience would have been like, which is really what I want from a book set in a historical context.  Whether it’s entirely historically accurate or not is really beside the point as long as it presents it in a way that makes sense.  And the book also doesn’t shy away from representing Christianity itself as being important, especially to the Cainites, despite them seemingly being cursed about this, a fact that will carry on in the next few books.  So the historical aspects are well-done.

Malachite himself is an interesting character, with some interesting plot points.  He is trying to save a young Cainite child who has the gift of prophecy, as he has fallen into a strange coma and his two siblings have died from that.  He is dedicated to the Dream and wants to revive it, and he is impressed by and has an interesting relationship with the human that he ends up sacrificing, which makes the sacrifice scene more poignant.  He also has to manage some interesting political realities, not the least of which is with Alexia, whom he needs but doesn’t trust, and who is actually lying to him, but also with some other factions of Cainites that can be more or less friendly to him at times, as well as Alexia’s own clan that aren’t all that happy with her quest.  It’s to the book’s credit that it manages to interweave all of these different elements together without making the book feel overstuffed.  The book does this by weaving all around the central figure of Malachite as things that he has to deal with and that come about naturally because of what he’s doing and his specific goals.  Since he’s sympathetic, we see these as obstacles he must overcome rather than an overly complicated plot that we, the reader, must deal with.

The one issue that I have follows from Malachite being sympathetic, however.  The sequence with the Cainite that he was seeking — the Dracon — is a very standard trope where someone who is seeking a teacher or authority figure is tested by them presenting themselves as something humble and then judging them based on how they react to that.  This, for example, is what Yoda did to Luke in “The Empire Strikes Back”.  But given all the obstacles that Malachite faced and all of his worries, that he’d react badly to someone that he has just met and who seems to be wasting his time when he is pressed for time to at least save the Cainite boy is understandable, especially given that the Dracon doesn’t give him any indication that he is the Dracon or someone of importance.  So it doesn’t really seem like Malachite himself has failed and so deserves rejection, but seems more like the Dracon is treating him unfairly.  And since we like Malachite and, at least, if we aren’t completely versed in the VTM universe have no reason to think the Dracon particularly wise, that makes us think worse of the Dracon and makes Malachite’s failure there less tragedy and more something to rail at.  Contrast this to the sacrifice of the human that he was attached to and that does seem like a tragedy, something that he needed to do to seek the Dream, and that when the information turns out to be something he can’t use it’s the tragedy of a sacrifice that he needed to make but that ultimately did not give him what he wanted.

That being said, it’s a pretty good book.  It does what we want the first book in a series to do, as it sets out the world and what we need to know to understand what’s going on, sets up enough plot elements for later books so that we can easily see the connection between them and so they don’t have to spend a lot of time introducing the general plot and can focus only on their specific issues, and is interesting enough in its own right that we feel that the series is likely to be interesting.  I liked the book but will comment at the end of the series of 13 books — not all of which I have — whether or not I’d read it, and the series, again.

Restoring the Reading List

March 14, 2023

So about a year and a half ago, I said that I was going to stop updating most of my lists because they weren’t really adding any value for me.  The main reason for this was that I was pretty much creating physical stacks of all the things that I was reading or watching and so it was easier for me to simply refer to the stack instead of referring to the list.  And that still seems to be true … except for one list, the Reading List.

It’s not that I can’t manage this list through the stacks.  If anything, it’s the one area where I pretty much run it entirely through stacks, because I tend to need to assemble them in one place physically so that I know what I have and to set the order that I’ll be reading them in.  So they are in fact perfectly positioned for me to manage through stacks.  So, then, why am I restoring the list?

When I talked about reading some books, like the Bible, I got a comment from Ester expressing interest in reading what I thought of them.  Of course, by the list it would take me months to get there, and so I wanted to express that in some way so that if someone wanted to know what I was reading and how long it might take me to get there they’d have some kind of reference.  And some of the books I’m reading are not exactly standard and so I thought again that some people might be interested in seeing what I was reading and going to read and commenting on that, or looking back to see when I might get around to commenting on that.

So I’ve restored the Reading List, breaking things down into three categories.  The first is the things I’m reading mostly for fun, which right now is my finally getting through a bunch of White Wolf novels that I had started once but never finished.  I don’t know what I’m going to read after that, although it’s likely to be the X-Wing books.  The second is the classic novels that I’m trying to read while doing laundry, which right now is a bunch of King Arthur books — including a re-read of “The Pendragon Cycle” because the first time I read it I noted that it made me want to re-read some of the more classic legends and I’m interested in seeing how I feel when I do things the other way around — followed by the complete Conan the Barbarian works and then finishing off Anna Karenina and Crime and Punishment, after which I’ll probably have to find some new ones to read (I’m thinking about trying “Ivanhoe” at some point, actually).  The third is the list of philosophy books that I’m trying to read while doing laundry, which right now is a bunch of theology/philosophy of religion things, including the Bible and Carrier’s mythicism books, and then finishing of the Nietzsche and some Sartre.

I also kept the old list (actually lists, since there was an old one there already) and will move completed sections below to keep the main list from getting too cluttered.  So if anyone wants to know what I’m reading, the Reading List is once again the place to go.

Thoughts on “Dungeons & Desktops”

February 28, 2023

So as I’ve mentioned before I often read “The CRPG Addict” while waiting for compiles and installs, because I need something to occupy my time and reading things works better because it’s basically random access:  I can stop and start reading and go back incredibly easily when things finish or I get interrupted.  Something that he’s been recommending a few times is the book “Dungeons & Desktops”, and so when I decided to pick up some things from Amazon I decided to order it.  There are two notable things about it from my perspective.  The first is that the version I got is the second edition, which supposedly adds in some modern games which weren’t in the first edition.  The second is that it cost about twice as much as I would usually be willing to spend on such a book, so the pressure was on for it to be an entertaining read and so a book that I might want to reread to make the extra cost worth it.

Fortunately, the book turned out pretty well.  It’s an interesting summary of the history of video games, starting from their inspiration from tabletop games up to the modern era, and covers how they evolved, how they succeeded, and how they failed.  It even takes the time to note that some of the big series — Ultima and Might & Magic — pretty much ended up failing in the exact same way, although it didn’t cover that much of the Mass Effect debacle (although it mentions it).  The authors also fill in things a bit with their own personal experiences with some of the games which is a nice touch and stops the book from being a dry and technical history which makes it more fun to read.  And the book is fairly comprehensive, going through a ton of games and talking about some of them in detail.  So, overall, the book was an entertaining read which help me get through it quickly while watching curling and not getting overly distracted by the curling while reading it.

I needed to start with the praise because the rest of this post is going to consist of some nitpicks about the book and then a longer discussion about RPGs and about games in general spawned from it.  So I needed to make it clear that I did enjoy the book before I start complaining about it.

The first nitpick is that at times, the two authors engage in short conversations with each other.  These conversations are … less than successful.  The problems I had with them is that they rarely followed directly from the text and so seemed to be there just to be there, tried to be funny but came at times where we didn’t need comic relief, weren’t all that funny besides, and also were often a bit mean-spirited, where Shane Stacks would say something and Matt Barton would basically insult him or at least express what I felt was an undue frustration with what was said.  There are a lot of these early on but fortunately they fade away as we get into the book proper and only return a couple more times right at the end.

The second nitpick is that despite the fact that I bought the book because The CRPG Addict mentioned it, they don’t mention him very much.  All they do is use one of his screenshots and have two comments where he says the game they are talking about is terrible.  They do recommend him at the end of the book, but when they were trying to define what it means to be a CRPG for example it wouldn’t have killed them to have referenced the detailed definition that he used and has refined over the years.  There were a number of times where referencing him would have made sense and it was a bit disappointing that they didn’t.

The final nitpick is that while there is a significant amount of research in the book, it has a tendency to focus on the games that they know and played and often leaves some of the others out.  For example, when talking about modern JRPGs they basically mention the Persona games as, to paraphrase Kor’s comment to Worf in DS9, “and they were there, too”, despite the fact that that series is probably the most influential of the modern JRPGs and might well be the epitome of of the modern JRPG.  Since it builds in the romances from CRPGs to a level unseen outside of them, it certainly had an interesting link there and was innovative, and so it probably deserved more attention than it got … especially since they tried to comment on which one was the best and seemed to pick Persona 5 by default.  And while I can forgive them for not mentioning Shadow Hearts when talking about older JRPGs that they didn’t even mention the Suikoden series in their list of games at the end is a bit harder to forgive, given its long lineage and unique character interactions and stories.  They also lament the lack of superhero CRPGs, but don’t even mention the X-Men Legends/Marvel Ultimate Alliance games — again, even in the list of games at the end — despite the fact that the games appeared on PC — at least from X-Men Legends 2 — and are clearly ARPGs, which they talk about.  Finally, they talk about Dark Age of Camelot but focus on Realm vs Realm, which is fair, but imply that the different realms heavily focused on different aspects, like the Norse realm focusing on melee, which is misleading since one of the wonderful things about the game is that each realm contains interesting and lore-specific implementations of all of the major class distinctions, and so the Norse realm has strong mages and ranged classes as well, and the others have strong melee classes, like the Paladin class that I tend to play in the Arthurian realm.  While the book itself is interesting and covers a lot, there are a number of things that a reader can complain about wrt how they treat games that the reader knows and likes better than they do.  This might be one of the fun things about such a book, but if the complaints are serious enough it hurts it as a history.

And the final thing I want to talk about is the one thing that separates them — and the CRPG Addict — from me is that they really do like the combat in RPGs, and consider good combat a key to a good CRPG … which is something that I don’t really agree with, seeing combat as, in general, the thing that I need to get through in order to get to the fun parts of a CRPG.  In fact, one of my biggest fears with CRPGs is that the combat is going to be too hard for me and will prevent me from finishing the game, which is one reason why I haven’t finished VTM: Bloodlines.  Given their research, though, this has been one of the things that CRPG game makers have always considered important as well, which again is why I end up being afraid to play those games knowing that if the combat is too difficult I will get very frustrated and might get myself into a situation where I’m not powerful or skilled enough to beat a key combat and so will have to quit without finishing the game … which has happened to me in the past.

But this struck me as creating an issue that is relatively unique for CRPGs, because they are games that from the start and from their tabletop origins always combined a number of different elements into it.  Yes, we’ve had cross-genre games, but CRPGs are pretty much cross-genre by definition.  The elements of a CRPG have always included a great story, great characters, great combat, interesting magic and leveling systems and interesting and varied equipment.  So in its very genre it has these different elements that are crucially a part of it, although different games may focus on some elements and not others.  However, what this means is that different gamers may be attracted to different aspects of a game.  Some players may come for the combat, some for the story, some for the characters, and so on.  But what this means is that they may not, in fact, actually like the other aspects of the game, which means that they have to try to put up with them to get to what they actually want to do in the game.  As noted, I’m the sort of player who is there primarily for the story and characters.  If the combat is too difficult or too prevalent, I may bail on or have to bail on the game and not get to experience that story, which will be disappointing and will sour me on the series as a whole.  On the other hand, players who are there primarily for the combat might get frustrated at all the times the game stops to relate the story and keeps them from moving on to what they really want to do.

So CRPGs need to balance these aspects, and from the book it looks like what most of them did was either to try to maximize everything or else focused a lot on the combat and made the story basically work.  The game that I think has balanced these things the best is indeed the aforementioned Persona games, as on Easy the combat is easily manageable and yet the combat system has the depth that even a story gamer benefits from paying attention to it and, in fact, generally has to pay attention to it to make it work, but with careful planning can usually minimize their grinding — especially in 4 and 5 — to focus on the story and character aspects, while someone who prefers the combat has a lot of ways to minimize the story to make the combat dominate their gaming experience more often.  And yet my worry about Persona 5 is that each of these elements are becoming so complicated and prominent that if you don’t like one of them you have to spend too much time and effort doing them, which will make them more frustrating.  And so I think attempts to define a CRPG as having to have all of these elements are doing the genre a disservice, as it forces them to include all of them and attempt to make them all to the level of those who really, really like those elements means that they can turn off those gamers who don’t like all the elements and prefer some elements to others.  But trying to minimize some of those elements leads to things like ARPGs and debates over whether things are really CRPGs at all, which isn’t good for CRPGs and so not going to help them gain mainstream appeal.

At any rate, the book is a good examination of the history of CRPGs, which makes it a must read for people who like CRPGs and either played those older games or want to know where the newer games came from.

Final Thoughts on “The Complete Works of Shakespeare”

February 8, 2023

So I’ve finished reading the complete works of Shakespeare.  I started reading it way back in about April of 2022 with “King Henry the Sixth” and so it’s taken me about nine months to get through.  I’ve enjoyed a lot of the classic dramas, was hit and miss on the comedies, and in general didn’t care much for the historicals … with some exceptions.  So, after all of that, a question that was raised a bit earlier turns out to still be relevant here:  why did I bother?

The first reason ties back into the reason why I read the complete works of H.P. Lovecraft before delving into this one:  I had somehow got a hankering to read some of these and found some incredibly nice versions of them from Amazon (I think) … and then never read them.  Seeing those nice volumes in my bookcase knowing that I had never finished Lovecraft and hadn’t even started  reading Shakespeare hit my new “Accomplishments” mindset and made me decide that I wanted to get through them and have those books actually fulfill their original intent and not just be something that looks impressive on that bookshelf that no one ever sees except me anyway.  And thus it was a success, and I’ve finished another accomplishment.

The second reason ties into my reading a lot of other classic works and deciding to comment on them, like “War and Peace”.  There were two reasons for me to start doing that.  The first was that these were classic works in those genres that I have never read and, given that, I figured I should probably try to read them (this is also what got me to watch “Casablanca” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”).  The other was a genuine curiosity of see if I would actually enjoy reading them not as classics to be studied but instead as things to be read simply for enjoyment.  I obviously wasn’t going to have the trouble with language that others might, nor with heavy or long works, and so it seemed like an interesting experiment to consume the works and talk about what I thought worked and didn’t work, even stepping outside of my normal comfort zone with “The Divine Comedy”.  And I think that worked here, as well, given that I can pretty much identify which ones I really liked and which ones I didn’t, although sadly there weren’t really any surprises on that score other than not really liking most of the comedies and actively disliking “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.

But there’s a final reason to have done this, and this is what I want to talk about here, which is that over the past number of years there’s been a big push to diversify the works studied in English classes, and one point that is usually made implicitly but is often made explicitly is that the classics like Shakespeare are studied because they are the ones that were spawned from Western culture and so are the ones that we just automatically consider worthy of study, but without that they don’t have anything to offer us or teach us anymore.  We can turn to modern works or works from other areas or other culture or whatever and get just as much from the study of those, and studying those are more inclusive and less problematic than the Western classics that we study today.  A version of this sort of culture clash is what got me to both read all the Hugo Award winners when that kerfuffle was going on and also to read all of the Ben Bova works I owned as well as a number of Robert Sheckley works  to see if the modern works were as good as some were saying and comparing them to the older works to see what the quality difference was.  So this does raise the question:  is Shakespeare still relevant, even uniquely so?  Are there things that we can learn about playcraft, at least, that we can best learn from him?

What I learned while simply reading these works is that Shakespeare is indeed a master of his craft.  While I was only reading them and not watching them being performed I can confirm that for even the plays that I didn’t like the structuring of the events and the dialogue was generally top-notch, even when I found it flawed.  But it would be easy to argue that perhaps other playwrights could rise to that level as well, and I don’t have enough experience with plays to gainsay them.  But there are two other facets where Shakespeare is supreme where I can make a better assessment.  One of them is with banter.  Shakespeare is an absolute master of banter, to a degree that I haven’t seen in any modern work.  The closest I’ve ever seen is from Aaron Allston (mostly from his Star Wars Legends works) and it’s still no comparison.  No one that I’ve read or watched, classic or modern, can even approach him when it comes to banter, which is one of the things that makes his comedies really pop.  If you want to learn how to write good banter, he’s the ur-example of how to do it well.

The other area is in his speeches.  Shakespeare is a master of speeches, which is most strongly evidenced by his soliloquies.  An inspiring speech is one thing, but an inspiring speech where all we have is one character talking out loud about their inner thoughts is quite another.  It would be easy for such speeches to seem self-indulgent or boring and meaningless, but he imbues them with meaning and with emotion so that we don’t mind sitting there watching — or reading — that character just talking about themselves for all that time.  For plays, it becomes an ingenious way for him to get those inner thoughts out in the open so that we can understand them and their dilemmas, to expound on some philosophical points, and to provide needed exposition in a way that’s not overly artificial and not boring.  Again, I have not seen anyone, classic or modern, who does that anywhere near as well.

(And in fact, the worst parts of Shakespeare’s plays are when he mixes the two by using speeches as banter, as he loses the pithy nature of his banter and the meaningfulness of his speeches.)

So, yes, I think we can learn things from Shakespeare yet, and reading everything he had written has simply driven that home for me.

So, that nine month project is now complete.  What am I moving onto next?  Well, observant readers will have noted that these posts always came out on Wednesdays, and something needs to fill that gap.  Something also needs to fill that gap for me of finding something to read while doing laundry.  For the latter, that’s going to be a bunch of King Arthur books, as well as a bunch of philosophy books.  Yes, Shakespeare can only be reasonably replaced by two different genres, not just one (also, I end up needing another hour to do laundry now so there’s room to fit in those two categories that I desperately want to make progress on).  But the philosophy stuff will generally end up on Fridays, and neither of them are things that I’ll get through quickly enough to talk about every week, so those posts will not fill the Wednesday slot.  I’ll slot the King Arthur stuff in on Tuesdays as I get far enough along (generally, when I finish a book).  In the place of the Shakespeare will be … a Comprehensive review of the episodes of the original “The Twilight Zone” show inspired by when I did the same for “Tales from the Darkside”, mostly because I want to examine how much the format itself was responsible for the failings of that series by seeing if “The Twilight Zone” will work out better for me.  Watch for those posts starting next week (yes, I have some disks watched and some posts written already, but I’m trying not to give any hints about what I think of them yet).

I am glad to have finished the Shakespeare and enjoyed reading them, but in line with my normal commentary I cannot see myself ever taking the nine months to read them all again … although some of them I certainly would.

Thoughts on “The Poems”

February 1, 2023

So the last forty pages or so of my complete collection of Shakespeare are the poems that he’d written, including his sonnets and two of his more epic — at least in length — poems.  Now, coming into this I knew that this would be a bit of a slog for me, which is why I made it a goal to finish it in one shot.  The first reason is that I’m not a fan of poetry at all, so just on that basis it was unlikely to impress me.  The second reason is that I’m also not a fan of romantic works — in the sense of primarily focusing on romantic liaisons — and obviously the Sonnets fit into that category … but so do the poems, for the most part.  So, yeah, I probably wasn’t going to be that fond of the poems and was definitely going to be unlikely to return to them again and again in the future to experience them.

One big thing that stood out to me here, though, works as a general comment on Shakespeare:  he can be a little … wordy is perhaps the best way to put it.  He will quite often say things in a much longer way than necessary, and often will repeat the same points again in slightly different ways.  The reason that this works for Shakespeare, however, is that he’s very good with those words and so even when he repeats points or lingers a bit too long we can enjoy the creative way he expresses those points.  Ultimately, we can get lost in his use of language which helps us forget that he isn’t saying anything new and is expressing what he wanted to get across using far more words than he needed to.

This really comes across here in the poems, especially in the two longer poems “Venus and Adonis” and “Lucrece”.  For the plays, he is limited in how much he can indulge in this by needing to do far more in a play and having less room than he would in a longer poem because of that.  The sonnets often repeat on a theme, but they benefit from the fact that you were probably never intended to read them all as a completely cohesive whole and so can be forgiven for circling back to previous themes.  But it is clear in the longer poems that he’s repeating his ideas and simply expressing them in different ways and so taking a lot longer to get through the story than he needed to.  And yet, I can easily imagine that if you were invested in the story or were a fan of romances that his expressing these things differently would simply add to the emotional heft of the story and help to build the atmosphere and emotion that that sort of reader would be looking for.  I wasn’t invested in the stories and didn’t care for romance, so I was more hoping for the poem to advance instead of doing that, which meant that I preferred the two shorter poems to those epics … despite the fact that epic ballads are about the only sort of poetry I actually enjoy.

Ultimately, I came in expecting to not care for the poetry and that’s pretty much what happened, but that’s not a criticism of Shakespeare’s abilities as a poet and more a reflection of the fact that if you don’t care for the stories or genres or poetry itself Shakespeare’s abilities with language will not save them for you … and, in fact, will only hurt as his style drags the poems out even more forcing you to experience that which you don’t care for even longer.  Shakespeare is clever with language and if you are engaged with his poetry that will carry you through, but if you aren’t then it won’t and will only drag it out.

The last post on this collection will talk about the collection as a whole.

Thoughts on “King Henry the Eighth”

January 25, 2023

So this is the last of the plays in my collection, which means that it’s the last of the official plays and is arguably the last one written.  Of course, it’s a historical, and aside from “Julius Caesar” I haven’t cared that much for the historicals.  At least part of that is because the historicals really are a dramatic rendition of the historical events, and as such there’s not really any kind of direct plot.  The plot is really a bare bones outline of the events, and so these plays move from event to event as we follow through the history, but the plays tend to end hinting at events to come and there’s no real overall theme to these plays.  This means that unless you know and care about the history is can be easy to get lost and even easier to not feel any emotional connection to the events or the characters and so have nothing to grasp onto to make us want to see what happens next (or how those events are portrayed).

The play focuses on Henry the Eighth as he ends up concerned about not having a son as heir and so divorces his first wife Katherine and marries Anne Boleyn.  It also includes a number of machinations from an ambitious bishop and then later a challenge against the new Archbishop of Canterbury at the end that is preempted by the king himself, and it ends with the birth of Elizabeth.  So as you might guess, there isn’t really much of a plot joining these events together, other than history itself.  So I’m not going to be able to use the plot to form a connection to the play.

However, the play works because it does a really good job of connecting use to the characters.  “Julius Caesar” escaped the bubble of being an uninteresting historical because it focused on and developed the character of Brutus, but here the play gives pretty much all the characters the same treatment.  As is par for the course for the historicals, Henry and even Anne get less of this that we see for other characters, but they are prominent enough and we are privy to enough of their internal thoughts that we can understand why they do what they do.  Henry’s first wife gets quite a bit of characterization, enough that we feel sad at her being put aside and sad at her death.  The Archbishop of Canterbury is given enough characterization that we can feel happy at the end when he is exonerated but it is ambiguous enough that we can wonder if he is as ambitious and is playing the games that he’s accused of.  And more importantly, this ambiguity carries over to the main antagonist, which is the bishop.  We can see that he is manipulating things and doing so unfairly, but he protests that it isn’t him doing which, obviously, seems hollow, but when his schemes are foiled and he is sent away from court he claims to have reformed and one of Katherine’s servants comments on his good points so that she — and thus we, since she is sympathetic and was one of his strongest opponents — can see that he is a more ambiguous character than he might have seemed.

With all of this, we have an oddity:  a historical that I actually enjoyed.  It doesn’t rise to the level of the great tragedies or even comedies, and I don’t think it is as good as “Julius Caesar”, but the connection it forms to the characters finally hits what a historical should be focusing on and creates a play that actually can indeed stand the test of time.  You don’t need to know these events in detail or have an emotional connection to them to feel for the characters and so be interested in how it all works out, which is rare for the historicals.  Henry also plays a bigger role in the play that is titled with his name which happened in “Antony and Cleopatra”, but the difference there is that the title characters aren’t sympathetic while Henry is more so and so far less annoying.  So the last play is, for me, a surprisingly interesting and enjoyable play, even more so because it is in a category that I haven’t enjoyed throughout this process.

Which leads into the last set of things to read:  the poetry.  I am not a fan of poetry, but I will read all the poems and talk about what I thought of them next time.

Thoughts on “The Tempest”

January 18, 2023

As I’ve commented on before, I reinvented the wheel in discovering that there are three broad categories of Shakespearean plays — comedy, drama and historical — and that some plays don’t seem to fit into those categories all that neatly and so are considered “problematic”.  So as I’ve gone along I’ve been following that classification scheme — as since I tend to like the dramas, find the comedies hit and miss, and dislike the historicals it’s a useful and interesting categorization to make — and have myself noted that while each category did seem to have certain traits some of the plays seem to mix traits from various categories.  I’ve been avoiding looking at what the “experts” say because I’ve wanted to just come up with it on my own and wasn’t all that interested in checking myself against them except in cases where I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t missing something (usually with the comedies since it having what I thought was a more dramatic theme or my not finding it all that funny doesn’t mean that it wasn’t meant to be a comedy).

“The Tempest” hit the “problematic” category for me.  For the most part, it seems to be a fairly standard drama about the former advisor of a city, Prospero, who has learned magic and creates a storm when the people who exiled him are sailing by to get his revenge on them, while also arranging for a husband for his daughter.  For the most part, the play seems to play this all straight.  However, there are a number of scenes, especially between a couple of the advisors, that fit the structure of Shakespeare’s comedies, mostly by having the characters engage in banter and in commenting on things that are going on.  When I went to look it up, it turns out that this is indeed one of the problematic plays precisely because of that mix, and experts have invented a category of “romances” for these sorts of plays, but I personally don’t think that fits because the romance is actually a minor part of the play, and so it would work, for me, as a general drama.

At least part of the reason for that is that those scenes are, for me, the worst parts of the play.  The characters aren’t particularly interesting and their plots aren’t that interesting either.  There is an interesting thing to come out of those plots which is a plot against the ruler that Prospero wants revenge on, but other than foiling that the plot doesn’t really have much of an impact on anything else.  So because the banter is neither all that funny in and of itself and doesn’t tie into the rest of the play all that well, it almost seems like comic relief that comes at a time when we didn’t need comic relief, and so it seems a bit pointless.

The main plot is better, mostly because the characters are more interesting.  While there are hints that Prospero might be a sinister character — Caliban accuses him of being a tough master and the spirit Prospero uses for most of his schemes asks him to keep his promise but there are hints that Prospero might not — we quickly learn from the asides that he is, himself, fairly honourable and even though he is seeking revenge he treats everyone else well, and notes that for Caliban he was the son of an evil witch who enslaved everyone and after defeating the witch he kept Caliban with them until Caliban attacked his daughter Miranda.  Thus, he’s a sympathetic character, and even though he treats the son of the ruler harshly he explicitly comments that he’s doing that to make the son earn his relationship with Miranda because if someone has to earn something they appreciate it more.  Ultimately, at the end he keeps his promises and frees everyone from the island, but this isn’t a twist in the story but something that we can see, given his character, that he would indeed do.  Also, Miranda and the ruler’s son are both sympathetic and nice and so we are happy to see them get together at the end and so for Prospero’s plans to succeed.  He does have to give up using a spell on the son and, as noted, his revenge, but we can see that this fits in with his character.

For me, this isn’t going to be one of the classic plays, and I did find the banter to not be very interesting, but overall the play was entertaining and worked relatively well.  It’s a breath of fresh air from the last few plays that I didn’t find to be all that good, even as it doesn’t have the character of the earlier and classic plays.

The last play in my collection is “King Henry the Eighth”, which is … a historical.  Which is a category that I haven’t cared much for.  So I’m not holding out much hope that the collection will end on a high note.

Thoughts on “The Winter’s Tale”

January 11, 2023

This one definitely seems to be a drama, which should give it a leg up in terms of my enjoying it.  However, as I proceed towards the end of the plays I’m finding that the crafting of the plays is as good as if not better than any of his most classic plays, but the plot and characters are significantly weaker.

The basic idea here is that the king of Sicilia has invited the king of Bohemia to visit for an extended time, since they were raised together and were fast friends.  When it comes time for the king of Bohemia to leave, the king of Sicilia prevails upon him to stay, but he refuses … until the queen of Sicilia convinces him to stay longer.  For some reason that might involve his son not looking enough like him, the king of Sicila then suspects that his wife and the king of Sicilia have been having a long affair, and that not only his existing son but his unborn daughter are really the children of the king of Bohemia, and ends up trying to convince one of the queen’s servants to poison the king of Bohemia.  The servant instead tells the king of Bohemia, which causes him to immediately leave, which only makes the king of Sicilia more suspicious, so he imprisons his wife and sends to the Oracle of Delphi to prove to his lords that his suspicions are correct.  The queen gives birth to a daughter, which the wife of one of the lords brings to the king in the hopes that it will soften his stance, but it only hardens it and he orders the daughter and his wife executed, but the lords convince him not to, and one lord in particular is then ordered to abandon the infant in the desert.  The men he sent to the Oracle then return and the message from the Oracle exonerates the queen and says that the king will have no heir until his daughter is found.  The son, who was sick earlier, dies, which causes the queen to faint and die, leaving the king alone.  Meanwhile, the lord sees a vision from the queen saying to leave the child near Bohemia, where a shepherd finds it.  The play then fast forwards fifteen years, and the daughter who was raised as the shepherd’s daughter is being courted by the king of Bohemia’s son, and ultimately the king of Bohemia disapproves of that idea and so the two of them run away to Sicilia.  Eventually, everyone comes together and she is revealed as the daughter of the king of Sicilia, which makes the match acceptable, and the queen comes back to life somehow, and the play ends.

The characters in general really don’t work here.  The king of Sicilia suspects his wife for no good reason, and does that very strongly in a way that’s required to lead to the rest of the plot, but this makes him entirely unsympathetic.  The king of Bohemia is more sympathetic but then throws that all away with his over-the-top reaction to the prince’s courtship of the daughter.  The daughter is talked about as being great, but doesn’t get the character development necessary for us to really like her, and the same applies to the prince.  We definitely might want the two of them to get together, but that would be because it’s romantic and not because we really like those characters.  The shepherd and his friend the clown — literally — are too often idiotic and capricious for us to care about them, and they don’t play any real role in the final outcome other than revealing where the prince and the daughter went.  The lord who wanted to save the child and his wife would be interesting characters if he hadn’t fallen out of the story due to the Oracle’s prophecy and if she wasn’t really just there to lecture the king and reveal the miracle of the queen’s survival at the end, and so they don’t really play enough of a role to focus on, and they don’t really get a happy ending.  There’s also a rogue cahracter added who is a thief and swindler who wants to return to service with the prince, but he’s not a very interesting character and adds nothing to the play itself.

The plot itself doesn’t really work either. As noted above, there’s no real reason given for the king of Sicilia to suspect that his wife and the king of Bohemia are having an affair and he jumps far too quickly to just killing off his long-time friend, which spawns the rest of the plot, but the two of them seemingly at least somewhat reconcile far too quickly to have that sort of event between them.  By taking the lord out of the picture, it leaves him with no real way to reveal who the daughter really is, so it again moves very quickly based mostly on how she looks, it seems, but given how bad the judgement of the king was earlier we have no reason to trust his opinion.  If they had kept the lord alive and he had even, perhaps, disguised himself as the clown to keep an eye on the daughter and so could reveal himself at the end and confirm it, things would have worked out a lot better and there really was no reason for him to never return home.  And, of course, the queen’s sudden revival makes no sense at all.

Similarly to “Timon of Athens”, this play has a similar plot to the previous play “Pericles” but is lacking when compared to it, especially in terms of plot and characters.  And Pericles wasn’t one of the classic Shakespeare plays to begin with.  So as I head towards the end it really is the case that the plot and the characters are not at all impressing me.  I’ll see if Shakespeare can finish strong with the last two plays:  “The Tempest” and “King Henry the Eighth”.

Some More Quick Thoughts

January 10, 2023

One thing that I discovered over my December vacation is, well, more of a confirmation of the fact that I can watch pretty much any competition show if I have someone to cheer for.  I recently added the Canadian Food Network channel to my cable package as part of another package and at various times spent some time watching the competitions on it.  However, I ended up spending pretty much an entire day watching the “Kids Baking Championship” marathon.  I had flipped to it but didn’t care much for it because at first the stuff the kids were doing seemed basic, but after flipping back to it again at one point I found that there were a few of the kids that seemed to have interesting personalities and approaches, and they also did manage to do some fairly advanced techniques, so I kept watching it until the end.  It was also interesting because at least pretty much once an episode one of the kids broke down crying (and the one who went home ended up doing the same) and while it could have really annoyed me I found that it didn’t bother me as much as I would have thought because, well, they’re kids.  They’re definitely going to be upset at times, and it was also nice to see Valerie Bertinelli — who was one of the hosts — come over to calm them down and give them a hug, which was kinda sweet.

I also realized that while I used to say that for anything like this I could watch it if I had someone to cheer for or cheer against, I think that doesn’t work for me anymore.  There has to be someone for me to cheer for, because if there’s just someone that I find annoying and so want to lose there I find that, well, they start to annoy me, and then the show starts to annoy me, and then I stop watching the show.  While one of the more colourful personalities annoyed me with this show, there were some personalities that I liked better which carried me through the episodes.  If that kid had made it all the way to the end and only had neutral personalities for me to cheer for, I think I would indeed have just moved on.

How I ended up with that channel is itself a bit interesting.  As the channel that sometimes shows movies went into Christmas movies that bored me, and the game show channels were showing shows that I didn’t care for, I started pondering reshuffling channels again to get something to watch when I’m working from home (I still do that at least one day a week, and whenever it snows).  And then I went to the dentist, and they have TVs overhead to distract the patients while they’re working on them, and it was showing “Love it or List it Vancouver”, which I was surprisingly interested in.  The show features an interior designer facing off against a realtor to fix the issues a family or couple is having with their house by renovating it and trying to find them a new one, and at the end the family has to decide whether to keep the renovated house or sell it to take the house the realtor found for them.  I liked the show because, as one of the wives commented, the interior designer is “cute and perky”, there’s just enough drama to keep me interested when I’m watching it but I don’t care enough about that drama that it distracts me when I’m doing something else (a marathon of those episodes is running right now while I’m writing this, in fact).  It took me a while to find that channel, but I finally did and it was in a package with Food Network and a few others, so I decided to give it a shot.  It works pretty well, although it is nice to catch at the end who won and when I used it to look up at while playing TOR I ended up having no idea who won which means that I didn’t remember anything about the episode.

I was reading some Bill Fawcett history books — he had written “How to Lose a Battle” — that I picked up in my last Amazon shopping spree before the holidays, and obviously when you talk about monumental battles and the like a lot of those will be from WWII, which reminded me of that and spurred me to rewatch … “Space Above and Beyond”, which fit into the time between my having finished off “Babylon 5” and starting the new stuff.  The show is more gritty and realistic than, well, most shows you’d see on TV that aren’t documentaries but it can be a bit gritty and dramatic at times — exceeding the rebooted “Battlestar Galatica” at times — and a lot of the times the marine characters end up disobeying orders more than they really should be able to get away with.  Yes, they’re in a space war with aliens and had the first real success in that war, but the military tends to demand more discipline than that.  So it got a little grating at times with that and the drama, but it’s still a fairly good show, especially since James Morrison plays T.C. McQueen, their commanding officer, quite well, and it’s one of the few roles that I’ve seen that Tucker Smallwood nails the acting on.

I also had planned on playing some of the PC games that I found and installed a while ago, and finally found some time to play Risk II.  I played with the Same Time option — all moves are executed at the same time — and with the Mission option, and played a couple of games with eight players that are all me.  I noticed that some of the missions seemed to be quite a bit easier than the others.  For example, the mission of “Eliminate Player X who owned the territory of Y” seems relatively easy, especially if you take and hold that territory early on so you know who to focus on, and indeed the first game was won by the player with that mission.  What makes it easier than the similar mission to simply eliminate a specific random player is that if someone else eliminates that player you still complete the mission, whereas when you’re given a specific random player if someone else eliminates them you have to take them on, which is bad because it’s likely that they are a fairly powerful player at that point.  The other missions that I’ve seen are based on holding a continent and other things as well.  You can hold a continent of your choice and then have a presence in each of the other continents, or hold a specific continent and then specific territories or a chain of connected territories.  The specific territories one seems to me to be the most difficult because you definitely have to conquer a lot of extra territory just to get to those specific territories, while the presence one is similar but what specifically you take is more open.  The chain of connected territories is probably the easiest, if you have the right initial continent.  At any rate, the game is fun and a lot faster than the other two to get through, so it may well turn into a good “I have an hour or two to kill” game which I have up until now been completely lacking.

So, those are more quick thoughts from the time I spent on vacation.

Thoughts on “Cymbeline”

January 4, 2023

As I proceeded with reading the complete works of Shakespeare, I roughly divided his plays into ones that I called “historicals”, and then into the comedies and the dramas/tragedies.  This, as it turns out, is pretty much how the experts divide Shakespeare’s plays as well.  It’s possible that at some point in time someone mentioned these distinctions to me, but I didn’t remember them when I started reading the plays and so to my mind I definitely ended up “reinventing” them, with my own takes on what properties each of those categories contained.  Some of them, of course, didn’t seem to neatly fit into those categories … but then the experts also have a selection of “problem plays” that, well, don’t neatly fit into each category.

The categories actually take on some extra importance for me, because as it turns out I tend to like or dislike the plays in certain categories.  The comedies, as I suppose most comedies end up being, are a bit hit-and-miss for me.  I tend to like the dramas/tragedies, although some don’t really seem to pass muster.  But the historicals are plays that I generally dislike, with only “Julius Caesar” being one that I actually really enjoyed.  The others get to the level of “tolerable” at best.

“Cymbeline” has the properties that I’ve come to associate with the historicals.  The title character is not at all the focus character and barely appears in the work, although his actions are what instigates the other plots.  There are also a number of plots that are barely interrelated but that seem to follow in some sense from the historical events.  It also seems to not really end, with lots of openings for a sequel, and while there’s drama and sometimes even tragedy the plays don’t seem to focus on them in any real way, and usually don’t resolve them.

The plot here is that Cymbeline the king is upset with his daughter because he wanted to marry her to the son of his new queen — so her stepbrother — but she, instead, went ahead and married someone of noble birth but with no money who had been raised in the king’s home.  So the king exiles the beau and imprisons his daughter until she comes to her senses.  The stepbrother is a braggart and a thoroughly disreputable person — Shakespeare in a couple of places makes hay with this with a lord mocking him behind his back over things like this — and the queen is two-faced and working against the wishes of the daughter and the king.  The beau ends up meeting another person who takes offense to the beau’s bragging about how wonderful the daughter is and bets that he can bed the daughter, offering the wealth that the beau would need to impress the king against a diamond ring that the daughter gave him.  Of course, when that person arrives he discovers that the virtue of the daughter is indeed impregnable, so he steals a bracelet and pretends that he was successful, which enrages the beau enough that he tells his servant to kill the daughter for her unfaithfulness, but the servant ends up faking her death because he can’t go through with it.  At the same time, a legate from Rome has come to collect what he claims is tribute owed to him from Julius Caesar’s time, but Cymbeline won’t pay it which will trigger hostilities.  The servant tries to arrange for the daughter to enter into his service, but she goes astray and ends up at a cave with an outlaw from Cymbeline’s time and, as it turns out, her own brothers who were abducted by that outlaw in revenge for being banished from court and have been raised from children by him.  She then takes a drug that the servant got from the queen which sends her into a stupor that looks like death, and the stepbrother shows up in the beau’s clothes and is killed by one of her brothers for, basically, being a hot-headed boor, and they lay the two bodies together so that when the daughter wakes up she thinks that her beau has died.  She does end up in the retinue of the Roman official, who ends up attacking her father, but he is saved by the beau returned to find her out of regret for what he had ordered done, the outlaw, and her two brothers.  This leads to a big final scene where everything is revealed — including the queen’s perfidy — and everything ends up being resolved, even the matter of the tribute.

It seems to me that the last few plays in the collection have the same traits, as they show Shakespeare’s ability to craft plays but don’t have engaging plots or characters.  As you can see from the above summary, the play is overstuffed with content which means that we don’t really get enough of a sense of each characters to really care about them.  About the only character that is consistently sympathetic is the daughter, and that’s only because she has to be a complete paragon of virtue for the plot to come off at all.  The stepbrother is more an ass than any kind of threat, and so is only fun at all when he’s being made fun of and is just annoying at any other time, and the queen and the purported seducer don’t get enough development to make for good antagonists, and the Roman official isn’t an antagonist in any way.  The dialogue works and the play flows, but the plot and characters just aren’t interesting enough to make it a classic work.  I’d sit through a performance of it, probably, and didn’t mind reading it, but it wasn’t going to be memorable.  Then again, for a professional playwright that might have been more the goal than creating works that truly stood the test of time, so perhaps that’s only to be expected.

Next up is “The Winter’s Tale”.