Saturday, February 23, 2008

I Feel Bad...

that no-one told the producers of Never Back Down that gay porn typically has a crappy techno soundtrack.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Kid's All Right

The problem of youth has one other sort-of-tangential problem for me: class.

My first thought is to make the Edward figure (Daniel, from here on out) to be the son and heir of a CEO of a big company who dies early on in the play, or even before it begins. But that gets rid of lots -- lots -- of the weighty material of Marlowe's work. Actually, the more I think of it this way, the less I like it. I think Daniel will have to be a young king. I mean, there /is/dramatic precedent for that (cough cough Henry IV 1, Henry IV 2, Henry V cough cough). And it does give a certain frisson in the relationship between Daniel and some of his nobles: in Marlowe's version, I think there's a certain petulance and conception of Edward's inexperience by the nobles that's difficult to respect in a man the age of the historical Edward II, but completely in keeping with someone 18 or so.

After all, it has been argued that this kind of generational conflict is a big theme in the work (I think the editors of the New Mermaids version [the 2nd edition] of the play bring that up), and I kind of like the idea of the older generation of rebels (Mortimer Senior, Warwick et al.) being infirm in some way: morbidly obese, with an oxygen tank, in a wheelchair... Remember, the characters aren't on an even playing field, so of course these lot get the short end of the stick.

Which leaves the problem of the Gaveston-character's age (Michael, from here on out). Gaveston is a well-written character in Marlowe, so there are several ways he can be played by an intelligent actor. Very often, he gets played as an opportunistic schemer who takes advantage of Edward (Derek Jarman's Edward II film shows this to a degree); this usually shows Gaveston as older and wiser than Edward. There are also versions (like Brecht's play) that show him as the object of Edward's unreasoning passion, where he often is shown to be younger than Edward.

I think, though, there are problems with both interpretations. Each version gets played by reducing the agency of the opposite lover: the more manipulative Gaveston, the less canny Edward and vice versa. I think the best path is to go in between. There's a great scene in Brecht's version where Gaveston runs away from a battle that really doesn't work in his vision of the relationship. It's a scene that's touching on its own, but doesn't ring true for that mise-en-scene. (My thought is that it's some unadulterated Lion Feuchtwanger, but I've got nothing at all to back that up.)

All in all, I think Michael should be a little older than Daniel; the real Gaveston met Edward when Edward I was impressed with Gaveston's character and recommended him to Edward II as a companion. Being a little older keeps that idea going, but also helps play up the historical idea that Edward I later repented himself when Gaveston turned out to be a bad influence. And I think bad influences are sexy.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Problems of the Youth

I believe (at times, anyway) very strongly in the idea of "give the people what they want". In the past few hours, I've had three people wend the Jaylemurph way under the Google Search "hunter brown gay jeopardy", which is comforting. It's not just me who thinks it, then.

Sadly, he will not be going on to the Finals round. And to be fair, he was legitimately beaten in competition, although I do invite humorous "spear carrier" comments. [Alas, he is not technically in my dating pool* since he only measure up to 5'11"...]

Anyway, I feel like I've been unduly beating around the Edward II bush the past few days. God -- how many mixed metaphors is that? Anyway: topic the first -- the central conceit of the work.

It's a version of Marlowe's work as envisioned by a 17 year old. A smart one, and a gay one, obviously, and one of the Kids. Right now, my vision is that he's a fairly regular high school student who projects himself and the people around him at school into the world of the play. He becomes Edward, his crush becomes Gaveston, and so forth. Also currently (and I admit this might change), I'm really into the idea that as the play progresses, it becomes more and more Marlowe's play and less and less the vision of the reader. The idea being that early on, you can have scenes that show Edward and Gaveston meeting and falling for each other, which are completely absent in Marlowe but end up in roughly the same place. I'm not going to be coy about the ending; it will be different. Sort of.

I think that almost the same sequence of events can happen, even with Edward being murdered, but with it not being about giving up dignity and pride. I think, for instance, that Edward can give up his crown without giving up his sense of self, or his sense of desire. (See what I will later say for my idea of the last scene.) But I get ahead of myself.

For me, this immediately brings up two problems. The first one seems to me the lesser of the two. If it's handled intelligently, I can't help but feel, it will ultimately be a positive point rather than a liability. It's age. The age of the characters.

There is something adolescent in the writings of Marlowe. I don't see this as a fault, but it seems hard to me to describe it as anything else. Read his plays: in the cockiness of his heroes (Tamburlaine, Faustus, Edward) is something undeniably so. I have two theories about this.

Theory One, part one: A big part of me thinks that Marlowe never reaches an emotional level of maturity. Maybe because he was never able to. And yes, I'm well-aware of the dangers of reading into the author the passions of his works. But I don't think that someone in his period so strongly identifying with same-sex desire could come to an adult understanding of emotional or sexual maturity -- he never even had the opportunity (or so it seems) to be in a deeply committed, long-term relationship. If that's the case, it does seem unlikely he produce a fictional version of one. What he can -- and does often and well -- is convey the fleeting, conflicting passions of an infatuation: the pursued and the pursuer, the frustrated and the victor.

And to his credit, he doesn't ever really supply the goods of a purely heterosexual relationship. As far as I know (and I'd love to hear a dissenting view) the closest he gets is Hero and Leander -- and the guy Leander is practically raped by Poseidon while swimming.

Theory One, part two: the basic element of his dramaturgy doesn't support this. Marlowe's plays are, in some sense, always about people who get what they want and then suffer. Compare this to Shakespeare's characters, who dither about getting what they want (look at Hamlet). This idea of going after and getting what you want without considering the consequences strikes me as adolescent in a way Shakespeare never is.

*Let us not forget Laura's idea of a Hallowe'en costume: a post note above my head that says you must be "6' 0" to ride this ride".

Hold onto your Package, Hugh

It seems the news is allowing me an unprecedented level of topicality.

What's likely to be the body of Sir Hugh Despenser the Younger -- better known to Edward II fans as Spenser Junior-- has been identified.

It seems like the body is an appropriate age; the carbon dating roughly confirms its period; and it was found on what was family property at the time. The body also bears evidence of having been drawn and quartered. The title for this post comes from this: part of the elaborate process of drawing and quartering involved castration and burning of the genitals in front of the victim.

Now, I would've written more, but I got distracted by being the one to update Wikipedia's article on Despenser with this information. (To answer the question, just this update and the first version of the article on Ingram Frizer, Marlowe's murderer.)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Dogs, Cats and NPR

So it probably comes as no surprise I listen to NPR. It might be marginally more interesting that my current little slice of heaven has it's own NPR station. (Actually it doesn't, really. There is a transmitter that repeats the signal from the Charlotte NPR affiliate, WFAE.) I'm sure I'm one of literally dozens of people in the area who listen in.

For instance, two weeks ago, they re-broadcast my favorite ever This American Life story, which includes the story of Roger Dowds on the Irish version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? It's the best piece of radio, ever. This is a picture of him from the gameshow. There's another picture of him floating around teh internets that I'm not convinced is really him, for my own vain reasons.

Yesterday, however, I caught something new. It was a story on Weekend America about Abraham Lincoln as a fag. Not that that of itself was that odd, but the slant the story, and the place it ended up was very much like my own current research. Which was odd for me; it's not like I think my topic is particularly abstruse or irrelevant, it's just that it doesn't get a lot of popular exposure. And okay, it /is/ NPR, but still...

Basically, it had two historians on who said: "He couldn't have been a homosexual because that kind of sexual identity hadn't been created yet." Which is true; the word 'homosexual' wasn't coined until 1869, so it could never have been chosen my Lincoln to describe himself, even if he was frequently sharing beds and swapping night-attire with his umm, "bodyguard."

It briefly touched on gender stereotypes and how they change, as well, even if it didn't use the terms. They did point out that it wasn't that odd for men to exchange fairly intimate compliments. They even went so far as to point out how the first decades of the 20th Century changed this.

What they didn't really expand on was the sort of pre-1869 default setting for what we would call "same-sex attraction" got lumped in the category "sodomy" along with (depending on exactly where and when, but generally) sorcery, treason, marital infidelity and blasphemy. The real horror of sodomy, since it wasn't a particular way of defining one's self, was that it could happen to anybody. (Cue the ominous chords...)

Another part of that is that the whole modern conception of sexuality as a polarity between strictly homo- or strictly heterosexual (with, of course, the complete amelioration of one at the expense of complete peiorization of the other) is a fabrication. People's desire generally is on a continuum that intersects with a contemporary society's mores.

Anyway, these generally are the assumptions that underpin what is called the New Historicism, and the starting point for my thesis on Marlowe. And, consequently, my writing project on Edward II. If you anything about Marlowe, then you know he fits poorly at best in the modern conception of either "straight" or "gay" and just as poorly into Elizabethan attitudes towards sex. Choosing to understand sex and desire as a meeting point personal identity and socio-political pressure (I hope. I really hope.) offers a new way of evaluating his works.

...Also, I feel like pointing out that I found out while listening to the above story that there is a basset hound who lives on the way to the local BBQ shack. He lives about two or three blocks from the house where I grew up, and it was all I could do not to pull over and pet him.

For some reason, he reminds me (maybe in the set of emotions he rises up in me) of my first friend in New York, Sniffle-Kitty.