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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Thursday, 24 January 2019

"Don Carlos" by Friedrich Schiller

Schiller was the best-selling author of The Robbers (1781). This play was first performed in 1787. He thus comes towards the end of the romantic Sturm und Drang movement epitomised by his friend  Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) and towards the beginning of melodrama. It is also wonderfully Gothic and includes the (albeit fake) ghost of a monk wandering through the palace cellars on the stroke of midnight and the common Gothic trope of demonising Roman Catholicism as later followed by The Monk (Lewis, 1796).

Don Carlos is a historical play written in blank verse and thus with a huge nod to Shakespeare. Schiller includes rather more detailed stage directions that Shakespeare and clearly believes that whenever one has a change of characters this means one should have a new scene (Act 4 has 24 such scenes) but I guess most modern productions would regard many of these scenelets as run-ins to proper scenes.

I saw the LAMDA production of Don Carlos at the matinee on Saturday 9th Feb 2019 in the Carne Studio theatre. This production highlighted the unstable emotional behaviour of Don Carlos, played as a hysterical neurotic by James Esler, who flung himself across the stage in a very physical performance, and his father King Philip, a paranoid gang leader who raged and collapsed and who could trust no one. This was a superb performance by Colm Gleeson. Supporting characters who impressed were Ivan Du Pontavice as a very correct militarist Duke of Alba, Branden Cook as an utterly cynical Domingo, Chloe McClay as etiquette-bound Olivarez and Olivia Le Andersen as the vengeful and regretful Princess Eboli. The adaptation really brought out the family feud at the heart of the story and managed to keep going through the bits in which Schiller expounds his political theories. It also turned Schiller's stop-start scening into a more contemporary flow. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Don Carlos is loosely based on Spanish history. Crown Prince Carlos, heir to Philip II of Spain, was mentally unstable and died after six months imprisonment by his father. But this was 20 years before the Spanish Armada, a historical fact mentioned in Schiller's play.

This play starts with a problem Before Philip II married the current Queen of Spain he had betrothed this French princess to his son Carlos. They had fallen in love. But then Philip was widowed and decided on a young bride and he himself married the Queen. So Carlos is now in the position of being in love with his stepmother. There are potential homages to Hamlet here (Don Carlos has just returned from studying abroad) and the incest based Jacobean tragedies such as 'Tis Pity She's a Whore

His best mate Rodrigues, Marquis of Posa, wants to help Don Carlos in his quasi-incestuous pursuit of love but at the same time he wants to protect the Netherlands, currently in revolt against the Spanish Empire, from the scorched earth policy promised by the Duke of Alva whom Philip wants to send to Flanders as the new Governor. Instead Rod Posa wants Don Carlos to become governor so that the two of them can initiate a far-sighted rule guaranteeing individual liberties and freedom of worship. Very German Enlightenment!

However their ambitions are under attack from the sinister Domingo, confessor to Philip, and the Duke (or in one wonderful misprint in my edition, the Dude) of Alva (described by Posa as "bigotry’s relentless tool").

Also the Princess Eboli has the hots for young Don Carlos. She provides a mysterious letter and a key to let him into her apartments whither he goes under the impression that the letter and key come from his step-mum. This leads to an awkward moments when she discovers that he does not in fact love him and she decides to have her revenge by exposing the dreadful secret and potentially incestuous affair to the king.

The King is an interesting study. He has been told his wife is being unfaithful, it is hinted that his latest daughter is a bastard. But he does not know what to believe and this is the problem of being a king: people lie to you for their advantage:
“I thirst for truth. To reach its tranquil spring,
Through the dark heaps of thick surrounding error,
Is not the lot of kings.”

In the end Don Carlos is brought down not so much by the multiplicity of scheming that is going on at the Spanish court as by a plot of fiendish complexity.

There are some wonderfully romantic/ melodramatic/ gothic moments:
“Like hell's grim furies, dreams of dreadful shape
Pursue me still. My better genius strives
With the fell projects of a dark despair.
My wildered subtle spirit crawls through maze
On maze of sophistries, until at length
It gains a yawning precipice's brink.”
There are some beautifully political points. 
When the villainous Princess Eboli looks forward to going to Madrid she is told there will be an auto da fe but she says that's OK because “‘Tis only heretics they burn”.

The Queen points out that a new monarch can do anything he wants:
“make bonfires of the laws
His father left ...
Drag from his tomb, in the Escurial,
The sacred corpse of his departed sire,
Make it a public spectacle, and scatter
Forth to the winds his desecrated dust.
And then, at last, to fill the measure up
“End all by wedding with his mother.”
“Terror alone can tie rebellion’s hands:
Humanity were madness.”

“Far easier is the task
To make a monarch than a monarchy.”

“The monarch’s crown is bright with sparkling gems,
But no eye sees the wounds that purchased them.”

“He reverences the people! And is this
A man to be our king?"

“Thou speakest like a dreamer. This high office
Demands a man - and not a stripling’s arm.”

And there are other great quotes:

“Carlos is not one to yield to must
Where he hath power to will! ...
I look on naught as lost - except the dead.”

“In future, let this puppet-play of rank
Be banished from our friendship”

“Whose eye is dry was ne’er of woman born!”

“I am not wicked, father; ardent blood
Is all my failing;—all my crime is youth;—
Wicked I am not—no, in truth, not wicked;—
Though many an impulse wild assails my heart,
Yet is it still untainted.”

“Love is the only treasure on the face
Of this wide earth that knows no purchaser
Besides itself—love has no price but love.
It is the costly gem, beyond all price,
Which I must freely give away, or—bury
For ever unenjoyed”

“There are such things as double-edged swords
And untrue friends,—I fear them both.
'Tis hard to judge among mankind, but still more hard
To know them thoroughly.”

“How poor, how beggarly, thou hast become,
Since all thy love has centred in thyself!”

“Naught but the vilest falsehood!
I'll swear 'tis false! Yet what's believed by all,
Groundless and unconfirmed although it be,
Works its effect, as sure as truth itself.”

“A virtuous name
Is, after all, my liege, the only prize
Which queens and peasants' wives contest together.”

“I ne'er could stoop
To be the chisel where I fain would be—
The sculptor's self.”

“You would plant
For all eternity, and yet the seeds
You sow around you are the seeds of death!”

“He who would be of service to mankind
Must first endeavour to resemble them.”

"All virtue
Is spotless till it’s tried.”

"I have created in my Carlos' soul,
A paradise for millions! Oh, my dream
Was lovely!”

“Oh, bid him realize the dream,
The glowing vision which our friendship painted,
Of a new-perfect realm! And let him lay
The first hand on the rude, unshapened stone.
Whether he fail or prosper—all alike—
Let him commence the work. 
Tell him, in manhood, he must still revere
The dreams of early youth, nor ope the heart
Of heaven's all-tender flower to canker-worms
Of boasted reason,—nor be led astray
When, by the wisdom of the dust, he hears
Enthusiasm, heavenly-born, blasphemed.”

“Oh! it hath cost thee much; full well I know
How thy kind heart with bitter anguish bled
As thy hands decked the victim for the altar.”

“This fine-toned lyre broke in your iron hand,
And you could do no more than murder him.”

“I'm nothing now
But a forsaken, old, defenceless man!”

There are some surprisingly modern attitudes and some great writing here. Although I am not surprised that the main influence of this work has been in Opera (which loves a good melodrama) there are some astute character portraits and the some excellent lines.

January 2019

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