Review: The Book of Will

When it comes to influential writers, William Shakespeare will always be at the top of the list. Not only has his work probably been examined, analyzed, and adapted more than any other writer in history, not only did they redefine how theatre and poetry could examine the human condition, but the words he wrote went on to shape the English Language itself. The Book of Will, performed on October 24-28 by the Davidson Theatre Department, tells the story of how Shakespeare legacy was preserved through the collection of his works known as the First Folio. In the play, the last original members of Shakespeare’s troupe and their families fight against scheming plagiarists, monumental expenses, and their own mortality to collect and publish the Folio.

To put it briefly (as brevity is the soul of wit), I really enjoyed The Book of Will. Its scenes were detailed, but moved quickly enough to not become boring. It had a good balance of comedic moments and more somber scenes, never becoming lost in one mood. Some of my favorite scenes were the ones that frequently switched between two related conversations – even though the conversions were separate, the smoothness of the transitions between them made them feel like one large conversations, creating an interesting effect that allowed the scene to become greater than the sum of its parts.

The Book of Will‘s in-depth look at the making of the First Folio was fascinating. While parts of it were certainly dramatized, it nevertheless was interesting to learn of early struggles with copyright and preservation of works in the Tudor era. One of the themes repeated throughout the play was the importance of a legacy, and how a great legacy can influence the future. Nowhere is this theme more clearly presented than at the end of the play, when the actors (out of character) begin to quote famous monologues of Shakespeare in various languages – pressing into the audience just how large the scope of the First Folio’s influence is.

The Davidson Theatre Department’s performances were exceptional as well. Of special note were the performances of Adam Gelman, who as Burbage magnificently pulled off one of the most wide-ranging and difficult monologues I have ever seen, as well as Deya Bowers, whose scenes as the gruff, unsavory William Jaggard steal the show.

If there is one place for criticism about The Book of Will, it was the scenes that consisted only of characters moving around and pantomiming actions such as working a printing press. These scenes were not interesting in the slightest, added nothing to the characters or the story, and should’ve been removed entirely. Thankfully, such scenes were few and far between, and overall The Book of Will was an engaging and entertaining look into the world of Shakespeare and the importance of legacy.

Annotated Scholarly Source

Winnington-Ingram, R. P. Mode in Ancient Greek Music. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

R. P. Winnington-Ingram is an authority on Ancient Greek music theory, having written and edited several studies on the subject. This book’s main topic of discussion is the modal system of Ancient Greece, and specifically the connections between the systems of Aristoxenus and Ptolemy and the original Greek modes. The potential evidence for these connections are examined in detail, and ultimately the book asserts that it is impossible to conclusively prove or disprove anything beyond a certain level of loss. This book is part of the scholarly discussion upon which I can develop my description of the disconnect between the original Lydian mode and the Lydian tonoi, as well as a useful tool for understanding the systems of Aristoxenus and Ptolemy.

Definition of Humanities

Much like revolution, it is difficult to sum up the definition of the Humanities in simple terms, in large part due to how broad that definition can be. At first glance it seems like the Humanities is the study of progress for the sake of progress, and to some extent that definition remains valid, but contradictions emerge in several examples in the course.  How can the lessons imparted from a genocide or disaster be referred to as progress? It isn’t as if such lessons are new: at best, they are a return to zero, and in any case not worth the suffering they caused. The Humanities can mean the study of progress, and it can also mean the critique of that progress, but it may also be the attempt to comprehend a tragedy or trauma. If revolution is the impact and legacy of a change in a community, then the purpose of the humanities is to examine that impact through the lens of human experiences.

The range of the Humanities, as this past year has proven, can be unbelievably broad – so broad than nearly any topic can arguably fall under its domain. From the consequences of radical change in society, to the intersection of art and science, to effectively understanding trauma, the Humanities allows us to reflect on a variety of issues from a variety of viewpoints, giving us the context to form our own understanding. And because the humanities is so broad, we are able to form connections between the specific examples we discussed and the issues we see in modern life. By reflecting on the moral failures of the past, we can seek out and stop the injustices of the present. By examining the changes undergone by systems of art (such as the development of abstractionism or the alterations of musical system) or science and technology, we can better understand how those subjects exist today, and how they can be developed even further. The goal of the Humanities is to allow us to develop ourselves and our understanding of the world.

These notes were taken from a lecture given by Professor Quillen about the disparity between truth and some accepted narratives, such as the Enlightenment being considered a bastion of free thinking while simultaneously enacting repressive colonialist policies. In these notes are questions and potential solutions central to the goal and content of the Humanities.

Definition of Revolution

“What is a revolution” seems like an odd question at first, because events that are called revolutions take on several different forms. There is the scientific or technological revolution, which is different from the cultural revolution, and both are different from the political revolution. Revolutions can also come in different sizes as well: is a revolution that only impacts a small community less of a revolution than one that impacts the entire world? Because there is so much variation on what is considered revolutionary, it would be very difficult or even outright impossible to restrict the meaning of revolution to a single, concise definition. However, while they may be vastly different in substance, true revolutions all share two qualities: the relatively immediate change they bring (their impact), and that change’s influence on the larger community (their legacy).

Whether or not a revolutionary ideal is truly revolutionary depends on its success in changing the society that it refers to (whether that is the entire world or simply a niche community). For example, the messages of nonviolent resistance, the unacceptability of injustice, and the morality of disobeying unjust laws in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” were major themes of the Civil Rights Movement, as well as major factors to its success. The letter is directly connected to a social revolution, and is therefore directly revolutionary itself. The same cannot be said of Nicolaus Copernicus’ De revolutionibus orbium coelestium. While its messages would be used by the scholars whose work would encapsulate the Copernican Revolution, and are therefore revolution-making, they cannot be revolutionary as they did not directly affect the scientific community themselves.

The letter also inspired other, similarly revolutionary actions and messages from King’s peers, which is also part of the reason it is revolutionary. To be revolutionary, one must incite other revolutions (or at least reactions) either expanding upon or in reaction to the original revolution. In this sense, a truly revolutionary action is one that instigates a long process of other revolutionary action. This qualifier for revolution is fairly obvious, as it could be said that the instigation of further change is part of the direct change that revolution brings. However the distinction between direct change and influenced change is still necessary, as the revolutions inspired by a previous revolution are still revolutions in their own right. The legacy of revolutions is most noticeable in technology or culture: for example, the music created with revolutionized versions the modal system was itself analyzed and expanded upon, creating further revolutions in music theory. This qualifier may be why Lapham takes umbrage with new and upcoming technologies advertising themselves as revolutionary: while their different and more powerful systems may find widespread adoption and adaptation in the community, that direct change and influence has not yet occurred. The advertisements are predicting that technology will be revolutionary when whether it actually will remains to be seen.

Of course, when defining revolution, at least in terms of social revolution, it is necessary to at least discuss the intersection of violence in it. Is violent action – not just changing a society, but forcibly removing the previous society with that change – a requirement for revolution? Lapham certainly thinks so, as he asserts that the civil rights movement was reformative but not revolutionary. And a majority of revolutions in the past feature a violent deposition of the previous order. However, though such acts are extremely likely to happen in times of revolution – as all it takes for violence to occur is a single person willing it to happen – the revolution itself does not require violence. Revolution can be violent, but it can also be peaceful reformation. In some cases, such as the actions of the RAF, the use of violence invalidated whatever revolutionary ideals the movement may have had. This is not to say that revolutions cannot be violent, or that the impact of a revolution equals progress. Sometimes the change a revolution brings is regressive, and its ‘legacy’ is the attempts to undo the damage the damage it caused.

This section of my notebook contains notes on the definition of revolution within Dostoevsky’s Demons, as well as the context which led to that definition. In Demons, as with my definition, social revolution is a fundamental change not just to a country’s political regime but to its entire society; a political overthrow that doesn’t change society or isn’t caused by change in society isn’t revolutionary.

Creative Prose: On Low Self-Esteem

(The following paragraphs are something I wrote impulsively following a Humanities discussion, in which I felt I contributed successfully):

I’d like to talk about the stupid nagging voice that is low self-esteem. This voice, if you hear it, is constant and inescapable in its message. And its message is simply that everybody you’ve ever met hates you, or thinks you’re stupid, or thinks you’re creepy, and any evidence to the contrary is just them humoring you. It tells you, after every interaction you have, that what you said was stupid and wrong and now the person you talked to thinks you’re stupid and wrong.

The crazy thing about this voice is that, when you think about it, it makes no sense. After all, you don’t usually craft an opinion of someone from a single interaction with them. You certainly don’t think about the little mistakes they make – if you even regard them as mistakes. It would be ridiculous to assume that you are the only person who doesn’t do this. And for that matter, why would everyone be so polite to you? If you’re as bad as the voice tells you you are, surely someone would’ve called you out by now. The voice’s message just doesn’t hold up.

So you argue with the voice. You tell it it’s wrong. You tell it that people like you, and they say they like you, and they can’t all be lying. You tell it that what you say isn’t stupid, and others have said as much, and they have no reason to lie. You tell it that nobody thinks about when you misspoke, that nobody even remembers.

But that’s where it gets tricky. Because the voice isn’t a devil on your shoulder, it isn’t a phantom whispering in your ear. The voice is you. You’re the one saying all those horrible things about yourself. And that means that no matter how much you argue with the voice, how often you remind yourself that none of what it says is true, you still believe it some level.

And because you believe it, even though it’s wrong and you know it’s wrong, you start changing your behaviors to match. You believe everyone hates you no matter what, so you stop interacting with people. You believe that people will hate your interests and opinions, so you never bring them up. You believe that what you say is stupid, so you stop speaking. You do this to protect yourself, even though you know there’s actually nothing to protect yourself from.

And you look at people who go through life saying and doing and interacting with others easily, and you wonder what they have that you don’t. But the truth is they don’t have anything special. The way they talk is the way you talk. The way they act is the way you act. The only difference between them and you is that they don’t hear the voice that you hear. Or they do, but they can hide it enough to where it seems like they don’t hear it. Even as you know that you can’t be alone in hearing the voice, that people have even made it clear that they hear it too, you still hear voice say that there must be something wrong with you for being the only one affected by it. The voice of low self-esteem is a very selfish voice, after all.

But every time you try to act like you don’t hear the voice, it just gets louder and more insistent. At a certain point it can be too much to ignore. And here I’d like to say that I know a way to block out the voice, completely and permanently. But I don’t. I know how to at least somewhat hide it in public, how to speak with at least some confidence. But I don’t know how to block out the voice.