Friday, December 11, 2009

61. Edward II by Christopher Marlowe

The last read for Sixteenth Century was intriguing when discussed, but relatively disappointing in reading. Other than a bit of Dr. Faustus and Hero and Leander , this is the first Marlowe I've read. I've heard such favorable comparisons with Shakespeare, but this play at least did not exemplify half the wit or character depth of the Bard's oeuvre.

I find the actual history of Edward II riveting. He was a blatant homosexual, who gave his beloved, Piers Gaveston, all the titles and money he wished for, arousing the ire of his barons. The "noble peers" overthrew the king, killed Gaveston, his ignored and ill-treated queen, Isabella, turned against him in exchange for the love of the usurper Mortimer, and the king was ultimately executed with a red-hot poker thrust through his bowels. When his son, Edward III, came of age, Mortimer was executed and Isabella imprisoned for life. This much is TRUE. What could you do with this as a play?

Marlowe leaves it pretty much at that though, except speeding up the time line, jumbling events a bit, and adding in a few characters. His Isabella is interesting to look at psychologically, she starts out as very sympathetic and remains loyal to the king even when he spurns her. Then, she begins plotting against him and accepts Mortimer's love. Well, can you blame her? Gaveston especially, but Edward as well, start out as pleasure-obsessed and a bit thuggish, but get sympathetic when they're oppressed and executed. Is Marlowe saying that situation determines character?

But the dialogue is only okay, it has its moments, but...in comparison to Shakespeare, even the history plays, I wasn't impressed.

62. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

This beautifully written literary thriller pulls you in and invites you into the exciting literary underworld of Barcelona. Zafon plays with my heartstrings when he describes the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and its concept, the secondhand bookshop where the main character Daniel lives and works, and the fabulous pen that once belonged to Victor Hugo. I'm also a sucker for books within books.

Despite all this, the mystery is predictable and the characters, except for the main character, not as well drawn as I would like or as I suspect Zafon could make them if he tried. Daniel is our young impressionable hero who discovers a mysterious book The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax, whose books seem to be disappearing. The rumor is that a man goes around finding all Carax's books and burning them. Daniel is soon caught up in this and must investigate all over Barcelona to discover the true story of Julian Carax, who is burning his books, and why.

Zafon portrays a Barcelona that is overshadowed by the Spanish Civil War and still experiencing the aftereffects. Daniel's Barcelona is not a safe place, and this is significant to remember. There is also a message about the importance of literature, which could have been stronger. Movies are popular and television is just arriving on the scene, but the mentions of it are at moments where they just seem to occupy space and sound too deliberate. Read The Shadow of the Wind for fun, not for substance.

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