True lies

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The Importance of Being Earnest, at the very beginning, seems to follow the usual morality play canvas: good vs evil. Algernon Moncrieff, one on the two main male protagonists, is the bad guy: a penniless aristocrat devoted to the pursuit of pleasure and particularly fond of muffins. This is the Victorian society and appearances have to be saved, therefore, when he wants to have a good time he pretends to go and visit an invalid friend called Bunbury, who lives in the country, whose bad health seems to require Algernon’s loving care. He is indeed a liar. His friend Earnest should evidently play the role of the good guy, in fact his name evokes seriousness, trust, assurance. Wilde reinforces this effect giving him the surname of Worthing. emphasizing that the man is also a “worth” “thing”. Actually, Earnest seems to have a good head on his shoulder,in fact everybody regards him a trustworthy, upright man. But also respectable men need to have a night out sometime, therefore he has invented a wicked younger brother, who needs to be looked after, who lives in town and whose name is… Earnest. We may believe that our good guy lacks imagination since he has given his name to his fictitious brother, but here is the trick, his real name is actually Jack at home and becomes Earnest every time he is in town. A double liar in fact. This is actually Wilde’s canvas: nothing is what it seems. He considers the old fixed categories of drama surpassed, and inadequate to mirror the complexity of the modern contemporary society. He continuously shuffles his cards throughout the play, thus depriving his audience of every certainty and when at the end every character seems to have been unmasked and every single lie crushed there is the coup de théâtre: Algernon is Jack’s younger brother and Jack’s name is actually Earnest. “it is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing but the truth” he will say. Among the many adaptations of the Importance of being Earnest I particularly enjoyed that of Oliver Parker with Colin Firth playing Jack/Earnest and Rupert Everett in the role of Algernon, however, some of the  adjustments in the script were, in my opinion, quite unnecessary. Algy in the movie is Jack/Earnest’s elder brother and Jack’s real name is actually Jack rather than Earnest. These choices add nothing to the story but rather they make it trivial, thus missing the essence of the play. Anyway, the movie is worth watching.

The architect of writing

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One of the keys of Dickens‘s success lies in the choice of his narrative canvas . Actually, it wasn’t anything new, because that was the typical canvas of the Morality Plays:the fight of good vs evil; but he customized that scheme adding a generous dose of sympathy and hope, thus making his fortune. The adoption of the typical dualism of the Moralities proved very effective as it was clear and particularly suitable to Dickens’s talent in characterizing all that vast humanity that peopled his novels. This duality became the distinctive mark of his works, in fact under the macro-dualism good/evil, Dickens always created many other micro-dualisms that were the frame of the narration. The famous passage when Oliver Twist walks up to the cook to ask for more is a sheer example of this technique. The macro-dualism is made up by the children/good vs adults/evil. The battlefield is the canteen where the kids used to have their gruel. The place seems very big and the copper is placed very distant from the reach of the hungry boys, as a mirage. Dickens says that this is the place where the boys “were fed“, thus stressing the psychological submission of the children with the usage of the passive voice plus a verb that implies passiveness. The cook who “ladles the gruel” is actually seen as the master, since their survival depends on him. The food is scarce, the bowls are small and the spoons seem big, the hunger is unbearable. Something has to be done. Under the threat of a big fat boy who proclaims himself ready to devour the “tender” small weak child who slept next him they decide it was high time to ask for more. Oliver will have to go to face the master. The imminent fight at dinner time is pointed out the choice of words. The apron of the cook becomes a uniform and his assistants range behind him ready for the battle. After Oliver’s request, the cook, who is a “fat,healthy man” becomes “pale” as if he were sick  and looks at him with “stupefied astonishment” but soon after he recovers himself and hits him with his ladle. Game over. Even the rhythm of the narration is dualistic with a prolonged succession of long and short sentences, The long sentences are descriptive and create the atmosphere, while the short ones either mark a sense of expectation or coincide with the speed the boys devour their food: “the bowls never wanted washing” – 5 words – “the gruel disappeared” – 3 words and record . I have just one word for his writing:amazing.

Heathcliff the villain

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A villain is the evil, immoral guy of a story. The etymology of the word villain comes from the Latin “villanus” meaning “farmhand“. He is antagonist to the knight not only for his low social status but for those moral values of chivalry: faith, loyalty, courage and honour that do not seem to affect his world.The villain is often cruel, malicious and devoted to wickedness. The typical villain of the Morality plays was the devil himself:Satan. In the Elizabethan Drama the villain’s want of morality allowed him to act against the laws of nature and God which were at the basis of society and  thus breaking them he gave the start to the dramatic action. The audience could easily spot villains on stage because dramatists often used to choose for them names that hid the clues for their moral imperfection. In Hamlet, for example, Shakespeare called the villain Claudius, which comes from the Latin “Claudus” that is “lame”. Sometimes the names could also point out the dangerousness of the villain. Richardson seemed to warn his unfortunate heroine Clarissa naming the man of her dreams Lovelace, truly a loveless man whose lace of love will strangle her to death. Heathcliff as well belongs to the cathegory of the villains. Emily Brontë chose for his protagonist a name that could mirror all the enigmatic nuances of his personality. He is heat, heath and cliff at the same time, that is wild, passionate, maybe stubborn, but definitely dangerous and uncontrollable. He is a modern Satan, dark( “he looks like a gipsy“), retiring, elusive and vengeful. Wherever he goes he upsets the preexisting balance bringing chaos and sorrow. Once adopted, for example, he will win Mr Earnshaws’s affection causing such frustration and  jealousy in his son Hindley that will fire up their deadly fight. The same destiny will share the Lintons’ when, after a mysterious absence of years, Heathcliff will turn up at their door only to carry out his revenge. Nothing and nobody will stop him. Not even love.