Monday, October 27, 2014

Review: Henry VIII by William Shakespeare

Henry VIII by William Shakespeare
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

The last play by Shakespeare, in association with John Fletcher, features the court drama of Henry VIII and the individuals that vied for power in Tudor government. The drama of the Buckingham's fall, the divorce, Wolsey's fall, and the veiled intrigue surrounding the Reformation are all there, but pains are kept to make Henry virtuous and imply the innocence of Anne Bullen so that her daughter the future Queen Elizabeth be seen in a positive light. Not long after the Tudor dynasty ended did that drama of the period be given over to popular entertainment.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Book Review: The Ugly Renaissance by Alexander Lee

The Ugly Renaissance: Sex, Greed, Violence and Depravity in an Age of BeautyThe Ugly Renaissance: Sex, Greed, Violence and Depravity in an Age of Beauty by Alexander Lee
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


The Renaissance is always seen by popular culture as the reestablishment of learning and art after the lull of the Dark and Middle Ages, whether this correct or not it is the view Alexander Lee takes on the outset of his book "The Ugly Renaissance."  Lee focuses on exposing the dark underbelly of the Renaissance period hidden behind the veneer of the wondrous art that we only view today.

Lee uses the lives of various artists and the work they did to illustrate the various facets of the ugly Renaissance from the vast poverty and inequality to sex and scandals, of corrupt bankers to murderous warlords patronizing fabulous works of art along side irreligious popes and priests who hide their scandalous ways by showing the grandiose moments in church history whether based on fact or fiction, and how art was used to further bigotry and prejudice of any race or culture not white, Christian, and European.

The moments in history that Lee highlights at first seems to show the greatness of popular view of the Renaissance, but then Lee shows that all is not what it seems in the highlighted moments.  While everything Lee brings forth backs up his assertions these moments aren't exactly new to those interested in history, which unfortunately makes "The Ugly Renaissance" a rehashing of history that many already know to be true.  While Lee can be given credit for attempting to inform the wider public of what also happened during the Renaissance besides the masterpieces of da Vinci and Michelangelo, his prose is dull that even I had to stop myself from zoning out several times.

The history of the Renaissance world, beyond the artistic and literary masterpieces most remember, for the popular crowd is a laudable effort by Lee.  However the tone of the overall book and the dull prose, undermine the overall produce for students of history that want to go beyond "popular" history.  So while this book has good information, be aware of the prose and tone before you read.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Review: The Tempest by William Shakespeare

The Tempest by William Shakespeare
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The romantic tragicomedy is a playful delight that uses illusion and magic that begins, drives, and completes the three plots featured in this play. The interplay between all the characters whether involving magic or not is engaging and kept me looking forward to seeing what would happen next. Although the at the end Prospero says the whole timeframe occurs in three hours, even with the magic I thought it was more like a few days given Prospero's desire to see Ferdinand earn Miranda's hand. However, this is just a personal aside. This is one of the plays that I've read in my reading of Shakespeare that I'd really like to see on stage rather than an adaptation.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Review: Cymbeline by William Shakespeare

Cymbeline by William Shakespeare
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Given that no "good" characters die during this play, upon finishing this play I decided that this fits the mold of a romance more than a tragedy. The titular character Cymbeline is at best a minor character compared to those who do most of the action throughout the play, although his decrees are what spurs the narrative of the play. The near tragedy of Imogen and Posthumus is the major arc throughout the play with Pisanio, the Queen, her son Cloten, and Iachimo figuring into the arc. The second and third arcs are is the conflict with Rome and the kidnapping of Cymbeline's sons years before. Within Act V all three of these arcs interact with one another until resolved in the final scene. This play is one of those that I would enjoy see on stage or an adaptation of on screen.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Review: The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare

The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

As I finished the last two Acts of this play, I was wondering if this was two plays in one because it went from being a tragic psychological drama to a comedy. The huge shift between the two types essentially at the beginning of Act IV changed my perception of the play from being very good to just plain alright. I guess this is considered one of the 'problem' plays for a reason.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Book Review: Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

Wyrd Sisters (Discworld, #6)Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Personally upon finishing "Wyrd Sisters", I felt conflicted about the sixth installment in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series.  It wasn't that the story was not good nor that the parodying of various fantasy tropes along with Shakespearean plays weren't funny, but nothing seemed to click throughout the entire book.  The first third of the book felt slow paced before things really started going in the plot but it was a sign of things to come as the comedic situations were amusing but not laugh-out-loud funny like the previous five books.  While a lot of the characters were enjoyable, namely Disc's dwarf bard Hwel, it was Margat Garlick that was off-putting because Pratchett didn't seem to develop her (given she is one of the titular characters) and might have been a reason why the book didn't click.  Overall, "Wyrd Sisters" is amusing but not compared to the previous five Discworld books.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Review: A Lover's Complaint by William Shakespeare

A Lover's Complaint by William Shakespeare
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Although in the same metre and structure as The Rape of Lucrece, this poem both shorter and more compact in it's plot. A Lover's Complaint is the story of a young woman who is wooed, seduced, and then abandoned by a lover while lamenting the fact that she'd fall for his charms again if given the chance. The short length of the poem while also having a compact plot makes this a better product by Shakespeare, though the quality is not with his other poetry.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Review: Sonnets by William Shakespeare

Sonnets by William Shakespeare
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The 154 sonnets by Shakespeare are the height of his poetic effort. The use of language to keep the rhyming so crisp and at such a high level is masterful. To single out one poem as the best would be impossible given the complexity and subject matter that many of them have. But for me personally, the "Dark Lady" sequence was the best.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Book Review: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the RyeThe Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I knew when I started "The Catcher in the Rye" that I might miss some of the meaning given that I was probably reading it 15 years too late.  However, I soon found out that I might have completely given up on the book during high school because Holden Caulfield is so annoying that I cheered when first his roommate and then the pimp beat him up.  Getting through this book wasn't a chore, but having waited for over a year with this book on my shelf I felt the need to finish just to see what all the hype was about.  Frankly by the end, the only character in the book I had any sympathy for was Phoebe given that she had no clue that her brother was nuts.

I attempted to think deeply about various symbols or themes in the book, but I soon found myself with a headache trying to figuring how critics could think anything of importance was being written.  After 214 pages, I can say without a doubt this book is all hype and will soon be sold to my local used book store.

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