10 Birthdays and A Funeral

'We have to make a birthday tea for 10 and a funeral tea...'

20 March – a big day in cultural history: 43 BC – Ovid “Take your fill of amusement, but cast the veil of modesty over your peccadilloes. Never make a parade of your good fortune, and never give a woman a present that another woman will recognise.” [The Art of Love] “Death is not accustomed to injure genius, and greater fame arrives after we have become ashes…” [Epistle to an Envious Man]. 1828 – Henrik Ibsen “SOLNESS: Human beings haven’t any use for these homes of theirs. Not for being happy in. And I shouldn’t have had use for a…

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The Cherry Orchard

January 17, 2018 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Plays, THEATRE, WRITING & LITERATURE |

Chekhov’s great sad comedy premiered in Moscow on this day (17 January) in 1904.  A devastating satire on the necessity to change and its collision with people impervious to change, it is the first great 20th century play, hugely influential in its grand theme of entropy (and we add, with as much modesty as possible, that the broken, reverberating lute string terminating Acts II and IV – “The distant sound is heard, as if from the sky, of a breaking string, dying away sadly” – inspired the champagne cork trope in The Varnished Culture‘s short play, Jenny Had it Coming.)    …

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Lettice and Lovage

October 12, 2017 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Plays, THEATRE, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

(By Peter Shaffer) (Directed by Angela Short) (Adelaide University Theatre Guild, 11 October 2017) Though he is better known for his darker pieces, Peter Shaffer had a big hit in the 1980s with this droll dig at the decline of modern standards, and the often opaque ways of the Heritage Mafia, subjects close to The Varnished Culture‘s heart.  Once again, Shaffer sets rational Apollo in opposition to romantic Dionysus, this time to richly humorous effect. Miss Lettice Douffet is a tour guide at “Fustian House” in Wiltshire, an ancient pile so dreary and unremarkable that it wouldn’t even get a page in…

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When Empirical Observation is Dangerous

December 28, 2016 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | HISTORY, Plays, POLITICS, RELIGION |
only said I th

"Gee whiz, I only said I THOUGHT I saw Neptune..." (painting by Rubens)

28 December 1612: heretical heliocentrist Galileo Galiliei (1564 – 1642) observes the heavenly body later identified as the planet Neptune.  Twenty one years later he would be punished with permanent home detention because he would not adhere to the received wisdom that all moved around the static earth.  “And yet it moves…” Galilei, in the play by Bertolt Brecht*, says: I offer my observations, and they smile.  I place my telescope at their disposal so they can convince themselves, and they quote Aristotle. But the man had no telescope!…Truth is the child of time, not of authority. Our ignorance is…

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“Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages”

April 23, 2016 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Classic Books, Plays, Poetry |

(Painting of William Shakespeare attributed to John Taylor)

Commemorating the death of the Bard (April 23 (?) 1564 to April 23, 1616) today, we note that William Shakespeare mesmerised his world, and the world ever since, although recently it seemed his status had become diminished.  We predict this to be a mere phase.  His plays are still staged and he will persist (to some, annoyingly so) in outpointing everyone else. Here are some random tributes, old and new: Shakespeare changes the entire meaning of what it is to have created a man made out of words. [Harold Bloom, The Western Canon 1994] What is generally forgotten is that Shakespeare himself is…

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