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tartuffe thank you

 

To: Shakespeare Theatre Company

To say that I was disappointed by the recent production of Tartuffe at the Shakespeare Theatre Company would be an understatement.

I attended the performance last Friday with ten of my students and four chaperones.

We expected to see an up-to-date performance of Moliere’s classic and looked forward to hearing a new translation.

My students all study the play, using the Richard Wilbur translation, and are quite familiar with its structure and message.

We were appalled by the performance.

The adaption went out of its way to excise almost all of Moliere’s humor. This was a mirthless, sinister Tartuffe.

In addition, the performance went out of its way to import blasphemy, misogyny, and obscenity into the play in ways which would have appalled Moliere.

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The two strong women’s roles in Moliere’s play (Dorine and Elmire) were reduced to impotence and utterly defeated by Tartuffe.

The actresses were very talented. The fault was not theirs. The fault was with the twisted adaptation of the script and the staging of the scenes.

stc tartuffe3Adding a second servant to Tartuffe, and then having two servants accompany him as a constant entourage altered the balance of power between Tartuffe and the other characters in profound and disturbing ways.

They physically intimidated every other character and overwhelmed them. Keeping the servants onstage, at times perching in positions overlooking the room, turned them into voyeurs and vultures.

Tartuffe no longer relied on rhetoric and deception alone to effect his plans – now he had the threat of violence constantly on display.

There was no need to transgressively introduce bread and a chalice of wine and mock the sacrament. It’s not in Moliere’s script.

stc tartuffe8There was no need to provide Tartuffe with his own cross to carry (with a leer to the audience) as he exited at the end of Act 3.

Perhaps most appalling was the elimination of any element of farce from the famous “table scene” which begs to be staged as a slapstick tag game between Tartuffe and Elmire, but with Elmire always (if only barely) in control, and preserving her integrity as she becomes increasingly exasperated with her hidden husband.

There was no humor in Serrand & Epp’s staging. Elmire did not dodge Tartuffe as he pursued her around the table.

tartuffe-berkeleyIn this production, Elmire was offered up as a sacrifice on the table – violated and essentially raped by Tartuffe.

It was obscene. It was totally unnecessary. It violated the text and message of the play.

The closing scene was completely at odds with the text and intention of Moliere.

In the Serrand & Epp production, AFTER Tartuffe is arrested and led away (bearing his cross!) by the officials of the king, the family, with terror written on their faces, stacks furniture up to block the door to their house and throw the latch.

The implied message is that Tartuffe has won. The family is destroyed and lost – alienated and violated.

The redemptive intervention of the king to exact justice and restore harmony was undercut with a vengeance.

Serrand & Epp’s disdain is clearly for religion in general and Christianity in particular.

Moliere hated hypocrisy, not Christianity.

I am profoundly disappointed in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s decision to host this production.

It has violated the trust we placed in you in bringing our students to see the staging of one of the classics of the 17th century.

We had no warning that this was to be a radically different version of Tartuffe.

 

I do not know if I can bring students to any productions in the future.

 

How will I know what to expect?

 

Rob Shearer

Director, Schaeffer Study Center

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In the mail yesterday I received my copy of the number one best-selling hardback in Germany, Deutschland Schafft Sich Ab, by Theo Sarrazin. German lacks a present continuous tense, so many English notices about the book have used the English simple present, Germany Abolishes Itself. I think the present continuous captures the authors intent much more closely. the subtitle, “Wie wir unser Land aufs Spiel setzen” can be translated, “How we are gambling with our country.”

The author, Theo Sarrazin, is an economist and veteran of the German Department of the Treasury. In 1989-90 he was the head of the Government Commission which oversaw the union of East & West Germany and managed the integration of the two currencies and economic systems. He also served on the executive management team of the German national railway and as Finance Senator for the the city of Berlin. He is a member of the left-center Social Democrat party. A man of many accomplishments, very knowledgeable on financial matters, public policy, and public finance.

His book has provoked a firestorm of criticism. He was forced to resign from the board of the German Federal Bank and there has been talk of expelling him from the Social Democrat party.

The book has not been translated into English, and I’m not aware of any US publisher who has announced plans to. It’s an important book though, with many parallels to the US situation.

Sarrazin identifies three deadly trends which he fears will prove fatal for Germany. 1) A declining birth rate; 2) Unrestricted immigration; 3) Failure of foreign immigrants to integrate into German society.

Underlying all these themes is a repeated denunciation of political correctness which has stifled debate over the problems facing Germany, and the tendency of every part of modern German culture and institutions to absolve individuals for any responsibility for their circumstances.

I’ll post more after I’ve had a chance to read more. Might even try my hand at translating a bit…

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Pat Conroy is one of my favorite authors. His writing is lyrical. Some might think it flowery, but that implies soft or overdone. Conroy’s prose is neither.  His love for language is evident on every page, in every line. His voice is distinctively male, martial, and Southern. The first book I read by him was The Great Santini: A Novel.That prompted me to read everything he’s published since. I’ve known the outlines of his personal story – air force pilot father, graduate of the Citadel (South Carolina’s military academy), English teacher, passionate writer.

Last fall (Nov 2010), Conroy published a literary memoir, My Reading Life. In fifteen chapters, he describes the books and the teachers who shaped his life. The chapters on his high school and college instructors are a celebration of the power of a gifted teacher to inspire. The chapters on books are breath-taking.

Two chapters impressed me greatly. I was delighted to discover that Gone With the Wind is one of his favorites and shaped him profoundly. It was his mother’s favorite book and she read it out loud to him. I had a similar relationship with both the book and my mother. My mother was old school South. Born in Virginia, she grew up in Atlanta. In 1941, she married her high school sweetheart, my father, who had just graduated from West Point. Gone With the Wind was published in 1936 and won the Pulitzer Prize. The movie was released three years later, in 1939 – the year my mother turned 19. I heard her tell the story of going to downtown Atlanta and joining the crowd at the premiere  in order to catch a glimpse of Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh. Pat Conroy’s mother was there, too. Neither could afford a ticket to go in, but they both wanted to be there.

Gone With the Wind was the first “adult” book I can remember reading – when I was 12. I loved the book, and I love the movie. I’ve never really spent much time contemplating why – but after reading Conroy’s descriptions, my immediate reaction was, “I wish I had written that.”

Here is Conroy’s introduction to the book:

Gone With the Wind is The Iliad with a Southern accent, burning with the humiliation of Reconstruction. It is the song of the fallen, unregenerate Troy, the one sung in a lower key by the women who had to pick up the pieces of a fractured society when their sons and husbands returned with their cause in their throats, when the final battle cry was sounded. It is the story of war told by the women who did not lose it and who refused to believe in its results long after the occupation had begun.”

And here’s his description of Scarlett:

“The book begins and ends with Tara, but it is Scarlett herself who represents the unimaginable changes that the war has wrought on all Southerners. It was in Southern women that the deep hatred the war engendered came to rest for real in the years of Reconstruction. The women of the South became the only American women to know the hard truths of war firsthand. They went hungry just as their men did on the front lines in Virginia and Tennessee, they starved when these men failed to come home for four straight growing seasons, and hunger was an old story when the war finally ended. The men of Chancellorsville, Franklin, and the Wilderness seemed to have left some residue of fury on the smoking, blood-drenched fields of battle, whose very names became sacred in the retelling. But the Southern women, forced to live with that defeat, had to build granaries around the heart to store the poisons that the glands of rage produced during that war and its aftermath. The Civil War still feels personal in the South, and what the women of the South brought to peacetime was Scarlett O’Hara’s sharp memory of exactly what they had lost.”

“Scarlett springs alive in the first sentence of the book and holds the narrative center for more than a thousand pages. She is a fabulous, one-of-a-kind creation, and she does not utter a dull line in the entire book. She makes her uncontrollable self-centeredness seem like the most charming thing in the world and one feels she would be more than a match for Anna Karenina, Lady Macbeth or any of Tennessee Williams’ women. Her entire nature shines with the joy of being pretty and sought after and frivolous in the first chapters and we see her character darkening slowly throughout the book. She rises to meet challenge after challenge as the war destroys the world she was born into as a daughter of the South. Tara made her charming, but the war made her Scarlett O’Hara.”

Scholars and critics have not cared much for Gone With the Wind. Here is Conroy’s observation on that: “Gone With the Wind has outlived a legion of critics and will bury another whole set of them after this century closes. . . Gone With the Wind has many flaws, but it cannot, even now, be easily put down. It still glows and quivers with life. American letters will always be tiptoeing nervously around that room where Scarlett O’Hara dresses for the party at Twelve Oaks as the War Between the States begins to inch its way toward Tara.”

Thank you, Mr. Conroy, for reminding me about an old friend and for helping me to understand why I love that book and movie.

Here’s a modern version of a trailer for the movie:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8mM8iNarcRc

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After a wait of seven years since the last novel, (The Teeth of the Tiger – 2003), I received an advance notice today that Clancy’s new novel, Dead or Alive, will be released on December 7th, 2010. 848 pages (yay!) Initial printing is 1,750,000 copies. Not bad for a $28.95 hardback. First print run should net the author about $5 million in royalties!

The  plot revolves around Jack Ryan, Jr. and The Campus,  the private security agency founded and funded by his father to track down and eliminate terrorists.

To my friends and family: I will have one ordered for the release date. Sorry, can’t wait until Christmas!

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Beach Books

For the first time in nine years, our family got to take a highly anticipated vacation this fall. We returned to Pawleys Island, SC – which has always been our kids’ favorite vacation destination.

Part of my ideal vacation is a chance to kick back with a good book on the beach. This year was a great year. I read seven books in seven days.

Here are the titles:


The Year of the Warrior by Lars Walker- not what I expected, but very enjoyable. 1st person tale from the perspective of an Irish Christian, kidnapped by Vikings and persuaded, against his will, to become their priest.

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The Confirmation by Ralph Reed – a political potboiler. Not bad, but not especially memorable.

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Jack Hinson’s One-Man War by Tom McKenney- fascinating account of a Tennessee farmer who takes his revenge as a sniper after Yankee soldiers brutally murder two of his sons.

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Don’t Vote! It Just Encourages the Bastards by P.J. O’Rourke – I identify with PJ. And he’s very funny. He does not suffer fools gladly.

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To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – Everyone should re-read this book at regular intervals. Still a powerful story.

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Brothers, We Are Not Professionals by John Piper – I certainly buy the main premise, that the drive to “professionalize” pastors has been a disaster. But I found Piper’s book a bit too long in the end. While I agreed with his points, the structure of the book became a bit repetitive.

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And finally, Citizens of London by Lynn Olson – the story of Gil Winant, Averell Harriman, Ed Murrow and a dozen other key players who helped the British in their hour of need. Good history, organized as a series of biographical sketches. Many stories and anecdotes which I’d never heard before. Very good at capturing and conveying what life was like in England during the darkest days of WW II.

That’s how I spent my vacation!

What good books have you been reading?

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“. . . the simple truth is that the Web, the Internet, does one thing. It speeds up the retrieval and dissemination of information, partially eliminating such chores as going outdoors to the mailbox or the adult bookstore, or having to pick up the phone to get hold of your stockbroker or some buddies to shoot the breeze with. That one thing the Internet does, and only that. All the rest is Digibabble.”

– Tom Wolfe,
from Digibabble, Fairy Dust, and the Human Anthill
in Hooking Up (published in 2000)

Wolfe, I would argue is the greatest writer and social critic of the last 50 years. His three novels are all astonishing works of great literature, and his essays are light years ahead of his contemporaries in their identification, documentation, and critique of social trends.

His books are worth reading and re-reading.

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. . . You never know who may have written it.”

– Johannes Brahms

quoted in Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment (P.S.) by James R. Gaines – a delightful read, by the way. I’m continuing my research for Famous Men of the 18th Century and will be writing chapters on both Bach and Frederick the Great. Gaines’ book is a fascinating double-biography spun from the single encounter between the two men and highlighting the two very different worldviews they represented.

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It will be some time before we are able to get these printed, but in the meantime we wanted to make them available to anyone who is interested. You can browse online here or download a .pdf to your own computer. You can even print your own copy if you’d like.

Our history study packages are typically designed for use in one semester, so now’s the time to order for the new year. Break out of the textbook box. Give your children real stories about real people. Reclaim history for them and for yourself.
Greenleaf Press 2010 Retail Catalog

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0756617685Sad news reached us today. Another one of the great Eyewitness books from Dorling Kindersley has gone out of print. This time it was Da Vinci and His Times.

DK had a meteoric history as a book developer, packager, and then international publisher. They fell on hard times in 2000 – wiped out over several foolish marketing decisions when they signed on to do the Star Wars Visual Dictionary. The Phantom Menace didn’t do as well as expected at the box office, a new manager – unfamiliar with the book business- make grandiose promises about sales and printed several million copies more than what could be sold. In the end, DK was sold to the Pearson Group (which also owns Penguin Books). I was cautiously optimistic that the management at Pearson would realize what a resource they had in the Eyewitness Series. Sadly, it appears they do not. The series has been slowly dying, title by title over the past five years. Renaissance is gone. Da Vinci is gone. Shakespeare is gone. Everest, India, & Russia are gone. Perspective, Monet, & Impressionism are gone.

I hope they’ll keep the remaining titles in print, but odds are that many of them will not be reprinted when the current stock sells out. Greenleaf carries them all. I suppose they will become collector items like the old Landmark series from Random House.

David Rohl is a modern-day, British Indiana Jones! He’s been shaking up the stodgy world of Egyptian archeology since the early 1990s, when he published a ground-breaking book arguing for a radical revision to the traditional chronology of Ancient Egypt – Pharaohs and Kings: A Biblical Quest.

A few years ago, Rohl wrote a one-volume reconstruction of the history of the Old Testament. His imaginative account marshals all of the most recent archeological evidence to illuminate and make meaningful the historical narrative of the Bible. That book, From Eden to Exile, has now been published in the United States by Greenleaf Press.

It is most refreshing to read an account of the history of Israel by a noted academic / archeologist which treats the biblical text respectfully! Not only that, but David Rohl cites an extensive collection of archaeological finds and artifacts which confirm the historical accuracy of the biblical account and attest to the historical reality of the Patriarchs. Rohl is the pioneer among a growing number of modern scholars who have challenged many of the traditional assumptions and chronologies of the ancient world. They are challenging the 19th and early 20th century theories and reconstructions of the history of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Those theories were formulated against a background of widespread skepticism (at times downright hostility) towards the biblical accounts. Rohl approaches the biblical texts with a quite different attitude. He begins by affording them the benefit of the doubt and taking them seriously. The result is a startling confirmation of the biblical record and a revision of the chronology of the ancient world.

Orthodox and conservative Christians will disagree with David Rohl’s retelling/reconstruction of the lives of Adam, Enoch, and Noah, but his version does have the admirable quality of treating all of them as historical figures. This stands in stark contrast to the past 150 years of liberal and skeptical scholarship which treats the biblical text as little more than a pious fraud. Because of the antiquity of these figures, and the scarcity of archeological finds and textual references, Rohl’s narrative here is little more than speculative conjecture – imaginative, but not really historical.

Rohl is on firmer ground, and has more to work with, when he describes the dispersion of the Mesopotamian culture and contacts (perhaps even a conquest?) with the Nile Valley. The unification of the Nile under the earliest pharaohs is murky territory, but Rohl’s speculative account ties more of the threads together than any other proposed narrative.

With Joseph, Rohl reaches territory where he is expert – Egypt. From here on the narrative is on surer footing, and the archeological evidence expands many-fold. The chapters on Joseph, Moses, and the Exodus are arguably the best in the book. Rohl paints a detailed picture of Egyptian culture and Pharaoh’s court. His account of the oppression of the Hebrew slaves draws on archeological finds made at the delta settlement of Avaris, first found and excavated in 1966. Rohl follows Josephus in crediting Moses as not just a “prince of Egypt,” but the successful commander of the Egyptian army which defeated and conquered Kush. Although Rohl opts for natural phenomena to account for the plagues of the Exodus, he produces compelling evidence from Egyptian sources that document and confirm the series of disasters which devastated Egypt.

The chapter on Joshua and the Conquest is a tour-de-force for Rohl. It provides him with an opportunity to review the history of archeology at Jericho and spell out in detail just where traditional scholars went wrong. Rohl shows how the New Chronology fits the facts much better and integrates the surviving documentary sources (including the Bible) with the archeological evidence.

In the chapter on Saul, Rohl presents startling evidence that the first king of Israel was a contemporary of the heretic Pharaoh Akhenaton. He quotes from the El Amarna letters to show that the Philistine cities of the coastal plain were sending frantic appeals to Pharaoh Akhenaton for help in putting down a rebellion by the nomadic herdsmen of the highlands under the leadership of their chief, Labaya, who Rohl identifies as Saul of the tribe of Benjamin. Even more intriguing, Rohl identifies a worshipper of the Hebrew God “El” at the court of Pharaoh Akhenaton. In the archives of Armarna, Rohl finds not only letters about Labaya, but also an actual letter from Labaya. The details of Labaya’s life and subsequent death in battle against a Philistine coalition on the slopes of Mt. Gilboa closely match the details of Saul’s life from the book of Samuel. They are a powerful confirmation of Rohl’s New Chronology.

Rohl continues to mine the Amarna letters for confirmation of the details of the reign of David. The letters record the actions of the two “sons of Labaya,” Mutbaal (Ishbaal) and Elhannan (David) as well as their generals Ayab (Joab)and Abner. Rohl cites the weakened Egyptian government and army under Akhenaton and Tutankhamun as the setting for David’s conquest of Jerusalem and expansion of the nation of Israel. David was expanding to fill the vacuum left by Egypt’s weakness during the later rulers of the 18th dynasty.

Solomon’s marriage to an Egyptian princess, in Rohl’s reconstruction, thus cements an alliance with General Haremheb who had succeeded Tut and his uncle, Ay, as Pharaoh. Even more startling is Rohl’s assertion that in the 33rd year of Solomon’s reign, it was troops from Israel who turned the tide at the battle of Kadesh, where the nineteen-year-old Ramesses II defeated Muwatali in 939 BC.

The division of Israel after Solomon’s death is aided by the intervention of the Pharaoh Shishak who marched on Jerusalem in the fifth year of the reign of Rehoboam.

The rest of Rohl’s narrative is straight-forward, as we enter the period of history when the biblical kings of Israel and Judah are mentioned in the text of neighboring nations and we have firm synchronicities established with Assyria and Nebuchadnezzar.

Rohl’s epilogue to this ambitious project is perhaps his best prose. In a brief, nine-page essay he states the problem posed by the dating of Solomon’s kingdom to the Iron Age and the inflation of the chronologies of the Egyptian Pharaohs caused by the assumptions of 19th century historians. Current traditional archeological research can find no confirmation of the Jews’ sojourn in Egypt, or the Exodus, or the Conquest, or even of the flourishing of the nation of Israel under David and Solomon. And so the archeologists dismiss the Bible as historically untrustworthy. Rohl, with a thorough re-examination of the dating sequences of the ancient world revises the chronologies. He goes back and looks at the same places, but at different times and finds countless confirmations of the details of the biblical account. His history of both Egypt and Israel is “satisfyingly supported by the stratigraphic record and colourfully enhanced by the contemporary texts of Israel’s powerful neighbours. It provides a solid and ultimately believable historical foundation for the religious messages of the biblical text.”

The book is beautifully laid out and illustrated with maps derived from satellite photography as well as stunning photographs of ancient artifacts – kudos to David Rohl for the photography and Ditas Rohl for the design & layout. It is also brilliantly written. Rohl has a knack for taking the details of archeology and explaining sophisticated concepts and analyses in ways that a layman can easily understand. This is no small accomplishment.

Christians will not agree with Rohl’s speculations about the details behind the book of Genesis. Indeed, it seems to me that Rohl has weakened his case by inventing a narrative for the earliest time period where he has the least amount of evidence. But when he reaches Joseph and Egypt, all those who respect and appreciate the biblical text must acknowledge that Rohl has done great service in re-evaluating the evidence and synthesizing it in a new and more accurate structure that better explains the ancient world – and in the process confirms the historical accuracy of the Old Testament.

Thus, while there are many things in From Eden to Exile that I would take issue with, there is also much that I appreciate. And because I appreciate what I can only judge to be an honest, forthright, original work of scholarship, I am proud to make From Eden to Exile
available to the reading public (and the academic world) once again so that David Rohl’s contribution to the New Chronology will continue to find its audience. It will surely provoke, agitate, and force those who read it to re-think their ideas about the ancient world. It is my hope that it will also play a part in raising up a new generation of ancient historians who will continue to investigate the evidence, continue to search for archeological clues, and continue the ongoing discussion of the historical events recorded in the Old Testament.

From Eden to Exile is a paperback, 528 pages and is available directly from Greenleaf Press for $24.95. It is also available through Amazon.com.

Bookstores and other retailers may order copies directly from Greenleaf Press or through Ingram Book Group.

Rob Shearer, Publisher
Greenleaf Press

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