Act V

Greek theatre ignored the division into acts. Greek representations consisted of several distinct parts, called protasis (introduction), epitasis (main action), catastasis (climax), and catastrophe (final resolution), but actually no interlude separated the individual parts. When the main actors left the scene, they were replaced by the choir, who sang or spoke their lines in unison, a collective, universal voice which commented on the dramatic action. Acts are, actually, never mentioned by ancient authors, not even Aristotle, in his Poetics, refers to such a division.

It was Roman drama critic Horace, three hundred years after Aristotle, who advocated a 5-act structure in his Ars Poetica: “A play should not be shorter or longer than five acts” and by the beginning of the first century it had become conventional in Rome. All Seneca’s plays, for example, were structured in five separate acts with musical interludes between them. The German critic, Guystav Freytach (1816-1895), attempted to rationalise the five act structure. In his model the first act is the exposition, where characters, character’s backstories, setting are introduced and it usually ends with the play’s significant piece of action.The second act takes that action and complicates it: that’s the rising action. In the third act there is a climax, the turning point, where the fortunes of the character or characters are reversed – either good to bad or bad to worse. In the fourth act the results of the reversal are played out and the hostility of the counter-party affects the hero in many ways. This is the falling action. In the fifth act the hero meets his logical destruction and that is the catastrophe. These ups and downs seem to follow the sequence of breathing: inhale/exhale. In a way we may say that drama is modelled on human nature.

Shakespeare’s plays do not exactly fit any pattern described above. They do not conform to the Aristotelian one and even if they may somehow resemble Freytach’s scheme, they do not completely fit into it. Shakespeare did not even divide the plays into acts and scenes, as it was done for the first time by the playwright Nicholas Rowe (1674-1718), in his six volume edition of Shakespeare’s plays he edited in 1709. Shakespeare put on stage the dynamic of the world he knew with the sensibility of the genius he was, regardless of defined rules and patterns. His stories were based on the alternation of order and chaos. At the beginning of any Shakespearian play there is an order which is usually broken by the evil action of a villain, fate or  a war, till eventually another order is achieved. In this alternation we keep moving forward, as the order attained at the end of the final act after the catastrophe is completely different from the previous one. This consideration should “give us pause“.

Hence, what we learn is that once, for any reason, a situation of stability is undermined, it is foolish to dream to restore it as it was. At the end of Act five, we can only expect to tackle the first act of another play. Every time we wonder about when we can ” go back to normal” after this pandemic, I fear we have to be ready to figure an entirely new “normality” . A normality made of masks, social distance, unemployment, disputes among countries and who knows what else to the next catastrophe.This is life and this proves that after all, the bard was right,”all world is a stage“.

The Beach

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A dream of beauty and happiness and the hopeless effort of making it last forever is the subject of the movie “The Beach” based on the 1996 novel of the same name by Alex Garland, which was adapted for the film by John Hodge. Making a moment of happiness last forever is everybody’s dream, yet we can understand the value of happiness only if you have intensely suffered as Seneca said and somehow, I agree.

The dream beach is Koh Phi Phi,Thailand, where a group of people coming from every part world have built a community, a new sort of heaven, which they wish to make it resistant to time and sorrow. They want to enjoy the incredible beauty nature that surrounds them, dope, grasp the pure heart of life, leaving the ugliness of the materialistic, competitive society outside. Far away, isolated, happy. Forever.

beach 2This idyllic state will be broken by the villain of the story: Richard  (Leo Di Caprio) an American college student. Shrewd, smart, liar, extremely good-looking, just like a modern Satan, Richard breaks in that community upsetting their hard gained balance and contaminating that “innocent” state. Being attractive, he easily seduces Françoise a French mate and becomes at the same time the prey of Sal (Tilda Swinton) the leader of the community. He will lie to both. He won’t tell Sal that he had copied the map of the island and given it to some surfers, thus breaking the vow of secrecy of the place and exposing the community to the risk of a tourist invasion and he won’t confess Françoise that he had sex with Sal. Hence the seeds of jealousy, suspicion, envy  begin to sprout. However, Richard manages to become a sort of hero, when he escapes a shark attack mysteriously succeeding in killing it.

the beach 3The perfect heaven cracks when sorrow and death intrude, thus upsetting the perception of time of the inhabitants of the island. What before seemed to be beautifully static turns into a natural, painful flow. The “eternal beauty” of their world will be thus gradually  “wasted” leading to the final collapse of the community. The occasion is given by another shark, which attacks three Swedish mates, mortally wounding two of them. It is particularly meaningful how the perfect community reacts.They don’t want their dream to be disturbed, therefore they try to remove any interference, even if it is a man’s life at stake.

beach8It may seem cruel, but the death of one of the two men is not an obstacle to their dream. After the burial and when all the prayers are said, life can go on. Sorrow, sooner or later, will fade away and you can gradually go back to your routine.But if the other man doesn’t  die, and he is there, wounded, screaming with pain, you cannot move on. You have to face daily the fragility of human life, you cannot turn the page and you are stuck there, always reading the same tragic lines. At this point, it is necessary to act, removing the problem. The Swedish guy will be carried away so that all the other members of the community are not disturbed by his sight and cries. This is the action that will make their heaven similar to the world the wanted to escape, a world that prefers to throw a sheet on its defects and aberrations to gaze its artificial beauty, like Dorian Gray.

the beach7Along with this process of dissolution from the inside, the world outside knocks on their door and it is brutal, violent, unbearable. The surfers Richard had met, manage to reach the island, but they are murdered by the same farmers, who had allowed Sal and her mates to stay there. The lead farmer understands that only with a good dose of realism he could get rid of those intruders, therefore he hands Sal a gun with a single bullet, a bullet destined to Richard; this is the price to stay there. Sal can’t see the trap. Sal can’t see that her friends are horrified . Sal would do everything to defend her dream and can see no way out. The very moment she pulls that trigger, even if the misses Richard, she disintegrates everything she had built. Her mates are overwhelmed by terror and flee en mass in hysterics to get away from the island as soon as possible, leaving her alone.

Once back to normal life, after some time Richard finds in his e-mail a message from Françoise entitled “beach life” which contains a photograph of the beach community and an animated handwritten inscription over the image: ‘Parallel Universe”. They were all together, smiling, happy on that amazing beach. The photograph had stopped that moment of incredible bliss and perfection, the moment that they had hoped to make it last forever in an unnatural effort that had brought them to ruin.

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