Sunday, April 29, 2007

How to do literary criticism

' ... certainly he had begun them all, but in each case he had become irritated and impatient with the protagonist's indecisiveness, lack of common sense, apparent insanity, or sourceless melancholy. As far as James was concerned, these so-called antiheroes deserved everything they got. Surely it was obvious that the land surveyor, K, should have just forgotten about trying to reach the castle and gone home? Similarly, Ahab should have given up on trying to catch the white whale and gone home; Meursault should have lied; Vladimir and Estragon should have left Godot a note and gone to the pub; and Hamlet should just have made up his mind.' (Sam Taylor, The Amnesiac)

Really, this is a gold mine of possibilities. Raskolnikov should have said 'I done it, guv'nor, you caught me bang to rights' while the corpse was still warm. Macbeth should have ignored the witches and, like K and Ahab, gone home (or, given that Lady Macbeth was probably at home, to the pub with Vladimir and Estragon). Heathcliff should have pushed the execrable Edgar Linton off the cliff while they were all still children, married Catherine at eighteen and lived happily ever after.

Alternatively, consider CREATIVE WRITING, ASSIGNMENT #1: (a) Write an epic poem in which Joseph K, Captain Ahab, Meursault, Vladimir, Estragon, Hamlet, Raskolnikov, Macbeth and Heathcliff all meet. At the pub.

Or (b), if you can think of two more, you'll have an entire cricket team of anti-heroes. Assign them their fielding positions and batting order and speculate on their respective strengths, weaknesses and styles of play. It is, for example, quite obvious that Heathcliff and Macbeth will open the batting, that Hamlet is in constant danger of being run out, that Meursault won't care who wins, and that Captain Ahab can't catch for toffee and is going to need a runner.

11 comments:

TimT said...

Now would seem a good time to re-quote 'The Cricketing Versions', by Wendy Cope.

The Cricketing Versions (for Simon Rae)

“There isn’t much cricket in the Cromwell play.” (overheard at a dinner party)

There isn’t much cricket in Hamlet either,
There isn’t much cricket in Lear.
I don’t think there’s any in Paradise Lost -
I haven’t a copy right here.

But I like to imagine the cricketing versions -
Laertes goes out to bat
And instead of claiming a palpable hit,
The prince gives a cry of ‘Howzat!’

While elsewhere the nastier daughters of Lear
(Both women cricketers) scheme
To keep their talented younger sister
Out of the England team,

And up in the happy realms of light
When Satan is out (great catch!)
His team and the winners sit down together
For sandwiches after the match.

Although there are some English writers
Who feature the red leather ball,
You could make a long list of the players and the books
In which there’s no cricket at all.

To be perfectly honest, I like them that way -
The absence of cricket is fine.
But if you prefer work that includes it, please note
That now there’s some cricket in mine.


(A note - subsequently added? - points out that there is, in fact, cricket in Paradise Lost: “Chaos umpire sits,/And by decision more embroils the fray.” Paradise Lost, II, 907-8.)

Pavlov's Cat said...

Damn, I might have known it had been done before!

The footnote is particularly good.

Anonymous said...

Or the New Scientist competition in which you had to rewrite a famous opening sentence to send the action into a cul-de sac-.
Sample: 'It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a large fortune is gay.'

Lucy Sussex

Pavlov's Cat said...

Heh, I remember that one.

In fact I think I even played -- 'All happy families are alike, and so are all unhappy families.'

tigtog said...

Sorry, but I'm stuck on Fotherington-Thomas skipping about the outside field watching clouds instead of the ball. I really have not idea which "classic" literary hero would best fill that part.

BK said...

mmm, this is where Salvor Hardin had it all wrong. Cricket keeps the Empire together, see?

The Devil Drink said...

Out? You're kidding, right, TimT?
Damn fool---the Devil cover-drives!

Ampersand Duck said...

I thought you'd turned into Jasper Fforde there for a minute!

damn, I wish I had time to play. Maybe tonight...

Anonymous said...

Top post. This almost had coffee on my keyboard at work today.

I have emailed Wendy Cope's poem to my cricket tragic Dad.


Cast Iron Balcony

redcap said...

Heh. Poetry has never been my strong point and I can never remember all the positions on the circket field, but I'm sure I can come up with two more anti-heroes for the team. Gatsby, carrying the dirnks, and John Boot out near the boundary rope, but he'd be reading a book on water voles and wouldn't notice when balls flew past his head. Oh, King Lear could be the crazy old man in the stands from the SBS 2006 World Cup advertising.

Tony.T said...

On, or about, topic: We analogise for any inconvenience.