Friday, September 12, 2014

Characters: Slight of Hand or Slight Hands?

  In recent years, keeping pace with your growing interest in the shape of stories and the voices in which they are told, older works have become of increased importance to you.  Much of your early work as a student attempting to understand and luxuriate in the stories of Chaucer and Shakespeare failed to grasp the vitality and nuance you now see.  Of course this causes you to wonder if there is yet more to come.

Chaucer's presentations of unique individuals, each telling stories, has come to be your favorite approach to narrating.  The idea of comparing a tale or fable, told by a unique personality type, helps define the concept of voice, and further helps you see how every narrator is to some degree unreliable.

Watching the progressive changes within some of the Shakespearean plays, you feel yourself understanding the implications of story as you never before understood.  For the longest time, characters were pursuing courses of action which you took at a shallow, face value.  

The tragedies were tragic only because the characters did what they did because they were following a plot design rather than being led down an increasingly narrow and inevitable path.  You were in effect missing the burden of consequence, the price extracted for one's yearnings.

Much as you've come to admire Lear, Macbeth, Hamlet, and Richard III for what can be learned about the consequences of yearning, and being led over the edge of previously set boundaries, your favorite Shakespeare has for some time been Twelfth Night.  This is so because of the way the story came into its structure from an aspect of the reality dramatists of the time had to face.

Shakespeare, Marlowe, Johnson, and the lesser playwrights had to live with the reality of no women permitted on stage.  Two of Shakespeare's more conflicted in her vulnerabilities and needs characters appear in the same play, Hamlet. These were Hamlet's mother, Queen Gertrude, who is now, by virtue of her marriage to Hamlet's uncle, his aunt.  The character is portrayed by a boy.  Ophelia, for a time a romantic interest for Hamlet, is also portrayed by a boy.  

Both characters have considerable emotional conflicts to endure.  Although Ophelia is not on stage for long, her presence and her death add to the weight of momentum against Hamlet.  Gertrude is torn by the grief of loss of her husband, her concerns for her son, her conflicted interests in her new husband, her former brother-in-law.

Twelfth Night  brings an even more delicious jumble.  A boy actor portrays Viola, who is a girl, pretending to be a boy.  Viola is given the chore of testing the waters for her patron, who is in love with a woman whom he wishes Viola to be his amanuensis, which would not be too difficult except that Viola is in love with her patron, and the object of her patron's affections, believing Viola to be a young man, has fallen for her/him.  This is a delicious tangle.

Had the original writers of the motion picture Tootsie any familiarity with Twelfth Night?  From your perspective, there would be more difficulty establishing that they had not any awareness of the play and its inner workings than to demonstrate a direct influence.

None of your stories have pushed the boundary of outright impersonation.  The closest you've come to such a dynamic is a short story, "Mr. Right," in which two women in a same-sex relationship wish to have a child to add the bond of parenthood to their relationship.  You have always taken the leap of creating women characters, but beyond the occasional questions about a woman character's motivation, this was a leap you took for granted.

You have also brought individuals from other races and age groups onto the stages of your stories, trusting your powers of observations of those races and age groups to provide plausible individuals who were not mere stereotype representations.  You trusted your powers of observation in this matter to the same extent you trusted them in other ways, including dialogue, motivation, agenda, and rate of growth as that aspect relates to the closure of the story.

Thus you emerge from the process, wanting to fulfill your own notions of creating characters who are created for their inner arguments and uniqueness, larger than life and yet suggestive of the ordinary detail of ordinary experience.  You want to push them to the edges of your imagination and patience and their imagination and impatience.

You want to make them so extraordinary that they will do things that surprise them, you, and such readers who may take interest in them, forgetting as they read that these characters are anything less than real.

Slight of hand, or slight hands?


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