Category Archives: History

BEHRMAN GETS SERIOUS: ‘NO TIME FOR COMEDY’ OPENS AND CONFRONTS CRISIS (A DAY IN THEATRE) ·

S.N. Behrman, the king of witty social comedies like “Biography” and “Second Marriage,” took a sharp turn with “No Time for Comedy” which premiered on April 17, 1939. Hailing from Worcester, Massachusetts, the son of Lithuanian immigrants, Behrman was known for his insightful and often hilarious plays dissecting the lives of New York’s upper crust.

“No Time for Comedy” shattered expectations. The play starred the renowned Laurence Olivier as Gaylord Easterbrook (opposite Katharine Cornell), a successful Hollywood director wrestling with a script for a frothy comedy. Entertaining audiences was Easterbrook’s forte, but the world around him is on the brink of war. News of Nazi aggression in Europe casts a long shadow, forcing Easterbrook to confront the frivolity of his chosen profession. The play’s humor, once Behrman’s trademark, becomes laced with a sense of unease. Witty banter gives way to serious discussions about the purpose of art in a world facing catastrophe.

This tonal shift is deliberate and jarring. Imagine a scene where Easterbrook cracks a joke about a temperamental actress, only to be interrupted by a telegram detailing the horrors unfolding in Europe. The laughter dries up, replaced by a sense of impending doom. Behrman doesn’t shy away from this discomfort. He uses it to highlight the absurdity of clinging to normalcy when the world is falling apart.

The underlying seriousness of the play lies in its exploration of artistic responsibility. Can a director, in good conscience, churn out lighthearted fare while the world burns? Should art offer escape or act as a mirror reflecting the turmoil of the times? These questions resonate deeply with audiences, especially in our own era of social and political upheaval.

“No Time for Comedy” enjoyed a respectable run on Broadway, opening on April 17, 1939 and closing in June of the same year after 80 performances. Despite its shorter run compared to some of Behrman’s comedies, the play’s impact transcended box office numbers. It marked a turning point in Behrman’s career, showcasing his ability to tackle weighty themes without sacrificing his signature wit. More importantly, it sparked a conversation about the role of art in a world facing crisis, a conversation that continues to this day.

Sources:

‘SHAKESPEARE’S SISTERS’ BY RAMIE TARGOFF REVIEW – FOUR WOMEN WHO WROTE THE RENAISSANCE ·

(Stephanie Merritt’s article appeared in the Guardian, 4/8;Photo: Child prodigy Elizabeth Cary, the author of the first published play by a woman in English. Photograph: Magite Historic/Alamy.)

This lively, accessible insight into a quartet of female writers in Elizabethan and Jacobean England explores the complex political, patriarchal and religious backdrop to their lives

Virginia Woolf, in her seminal essay A Room of One’s Own, famously asserted that any hypothetical sister of William Shakespeare would have had her literary gifts thwarted from the outset, thanks to the restrictions on women’s education in the Elizabethan age, not to mention the burdens of motherhood and domestic drudgery.

In the last few decades, the field of feminist literary and historical studies has vastly expanded, holding up to the light those female writers who, despite Woolf’s dismissal, did exist and create in Elizabethan and Jacobean England. Ramie Targoff, professor of English at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, sets out to examine the life and work of four of the most prominent in Shakespeare’s Sisters: Four Women Who Wrote the Renaissance. One is the prolific diarist Anne Clifford, who was certainly known to Woolf because her lover, Vita Sackville-West – a direct descendant of Clifford – had published Anne’s early diaries. Where Woolf regarded Anne as “practical and little educated”, “busied with all the cares of wealth and property”, Sackville-West praised her “sharp, vigorous mind”. In Targoff’s account, Anne – who lived to be 86 – emerges as determined and independent minded, her writing offering a vivid account of her personal battle to assert her rights after she was disinherited from her father’s estate.

Most striking is the way the women had to accommodate a world of male expectations and bend their way around it

Targoff’s other three subjects are equally fascinating. There’s Mary Sidney, sister of the poet Sir Philip and later Countess of Pembroke, whose translations of the Psalms were praised by her male contemporaries, including John Donne; Aemilia Lanyer, daughter of an Italian (possibly Jewish) immigrant musician, whose name may be more familiar since Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s 2018 hit play Emilia brought her to a new audience; and Elizabeth Cary, a child prodigy who went on to become the author of the first published play by a woman in English, despite having 11 children. These women and their writings are not unknown, but to see their individual and occasionally interwoven stories set out side by side is to understand with greater clarity that, while Woolf was not wrong about the obstacles faced by female writers, she was mistaken about the quality and reception of their work.

Most striking in Targoff’s account is the way the women had to accommodate a world of male expectations and bend their way around it in order to make their voices heard. Mary Sidney used her famous brother as a foil, slipping her own earliest work into print under cover of his name. When Elizabeth Cary was newly married and her husband, Henry, went abroad to fight in the Netherlands, Elizabeth’s mother had someone else write to Henry on his wife’s behalf, lest the evidence of Elizabeth’s ferocious intelligence put him off; Elizabeth’s play, The Tragedy of Mariam, was published with only her initials on the title page, to conceal her identity.

 (Read more)

‘LYSISTRATA’ (LISTEN NOW ON BBC RADIO 4–IN OUR TIME–DISCUSSION PROGRAM) ·

‘LYSISTRATA’

Listen

In Our Time

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Aristophanes’ comedy in which the women of Athens and Sparta, led by Lysistrata, secure peace in the long-running war between them by staging a sex strike. To the men in the audience in 411BC, the idea that peace in the Peloponnesian War could be won so easily was ridiculous and the thought that their wives could have so much power over them was even more so. However Aristophanes’ comedy also has the women seizing the treasure in the Acropolis that was meant to fund more fighting in an emergency, a fund the Athenians had recently had to draw on. They were in a perilous position and, much as they might laugh at Aristophanes’ jokes, they knew there were real concerns about the actual cost of the war in terms of wealth and manpower.

With Paul Cartledge AG Leventis Senior Research Fellow of Clare College, University of Cambridge

Sarah Miles Associate Professor in the Department of Classics and Ancient History at Durham University

And James Robson Professor of Classical Studies at the Open University

Producer: Simon Tillotson

SHAKESPEARE PLAYED JEALOUS HUSBAND IN 1598 BEN JONSON DRAMA, SCHOLAR’S ANALYSIS FINDS ·

(Dalya Alberge’s article appeared in the Guardian, 4/7/2024; A 1610 portrait of William Shakespeare. Darren Freebury-Jones said that Shakespeare, ‘being a genius, takes another dramatist’s feathers and transforms them into a peacock’. Photograph: Akademie/Alamy.)

Exclusive: lecturer finds ‘striking similarities’ between lines in Jonson’s Every Man in His Humour and later Shakespeare works

He was an actor, as well as the greatest dramatist of all time, but no one has been able to name with certainty a single role that William Shakespeare performed himself.

Now a leading scholar has concluded from linguistic analysis that Shakespeare played an obsessively jealous husband in a 1598 drama by fellow playwright Ben Jonson.

Dr Darren Freebury-Jones, a lecturer in Shakespeare studies at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon, has discovered “striking similarities” between phrases recited by Thorello in Every Man in His Humour and those in Shakespeare’s Othello, Hamlet and Twelfth Night – all written between 1600 and 1603.

He told the Guardian: “What I’ve found are some really interesting connections in terms of language, which suggest that Shakespeare was, perhaps unconsciously, remembering his own lines.”

Elizabethan actors generally did not have copies of an entire play. Instead, their scripts were limited to their particular lines and their cues – just the last few words of preceding speeches.

Freebury-Jones said: “Players like Shakespeare would therefore need to be alert during performance, relying heavily on their aural understanding. So there was a real emphasis on listening during the period …

“The grammatical patterning and likenesses of thought between his lines and those of Thorello – renamed Kitely in Jonson’s revision – suggest that Shakespeare was intimately familiar with that role. But Shakespeare, being a genius, takes another dramatist’s feathers and transforms them into a peacock.”

Singling out examples, Freebury-Jones said: “In Jonson’s play, you’ve got Bianca, unfortunate wife of the jealous Thorello, who suspects she’s having an affair. She says: ‘For God’s sake, sweetheart, come in out of the air,’ to which Thorello responds with an aside: ‘How simple and how subtle are her answers?’

“In Hamlet, Polonius asks: ‘Will you walk out of the air, my lord?’, to which Hamlet responds: ‘Into my grave.’ Polonius says: ‘Indeed, that is out o’th’ air.’ He then offers an aside: ‘How pregnant sometimes his replies are.’ The corresponding structures and similarities in context are striking. Is this a case of Shakespeare remembering one of his cue-lines and an aside?”

He added: “Shakespeare seems to have recalled another of Thorello’s asides: ‘Spite of the devil, how they sting my heart,’ for Maria’s speech in Twelfth Night: ‘La you, an you speak ill of the devil, how he takes it at heart.’

“The grammatical structure is very similar and the unique word string, ‘of the devil how’, embraces the noun ‘heart’. Are we witnessing Shakespeare’s recall of lines he delivered on stage here?

A 1834 drawing of Polonius and Hamlet by the French artist Eugène Delacroix. Photograph: Heritage Art/Getty Images

“Shakespeare also remembered Thorello’s line: ‘They would give out, because my wife is fair,’ when he depicted Othello’s destructive jealousy: ‘’Tis not to make me jealous / To say my wife is fair.’ Shakespeare inverts Thorello’s comic jealousy in his similarly named tragic protagonist Othello.”

Freebury-Jones found that other comparative phrases were “nowhere near as contextually interesting as those shared with Thorello”.

He observed that scholars had not been certain of any particular roles that Shakespeare took as an actor: “There’s oral traditions connecting him to the role of the ghost of Hamlet’s father and an old man named Adam in As You Like It.

“We know he acted in his own plays because the 1623 First Folio tells us, but it does not confirm any specific role he took.

“We also know he acted in two plays by Jonson, as a cast list printed in the 1616 Jonson Folio shows that Shakespeare was one of the principal players in Every Man in His Humour and that he was also listed among the principal tragedians in Sejanus [His Fall]. But again the documentary evidence does not specify roles.”

He said: “I can’t say that Shakespeare definitely played Thorello, but this is new evidence. No one’s ever discovered it before. I think it makes an interesting, quite compelling case.

(Read more)

SPEAK FOR THEM: ARTISTS THEY CAME FOR (March 25th, 2024 – April 8th, 2024) ·

Since our last report, the silencing of artistic voices continues around the world. Here are some of those targeted in the past two weeks:

  1. Tsang Ka-Ying (Hong Kong): A renowned cartoonist known for his political satire, Tsang was summoned by Hong Kong National Security authorities on March 30th for questioning about his recent comic strip depicting the erosion of press freedom in the territory. He was released the same day but faces potential charges under the National Security Law for “inciting subversion.” (Enforced by: Hong Kong National Security Agency)
  2. Darya Zlatopolskaya (Belarus): A young singer-songwriter known for her protest music, Zlatopolskaya was arrested on April 2nd at a peaceful demonstration against the ongoing war in Ukraine. She is being held on charges of “participating in an unauthorized mass gathering.” Her detention has sparked international outrage, with calls for her release. (Enforced by: Belarusian government)
  3. Erfan Veiszadeh (Iran): A prominent filmmaker known for his critical documentaries, Veiszadeh’s home was raided by Iranian security forces on April 5th. He was detained alongside his wife, reportedly for “activities against national security.” Their current whereabouts and the specific charges against them remain unclear. (Enforced by: Iranian security forces)
  4. Nita Farid (Afghanistan): A celebrated female singer, Farid was forced to cancel all upcoming performances following a Taliban decree on April 1st banning women from singing in public. This is yet another blow to artistic expression under the Taliban regime. (Enforced by: Taliban government)
  5. Mohamed Doukali (Morocco): A rapper known for his socially conscious lyrics, Doukali was sentenced to three months in prison on March 28th for “defamation” and “harming public morals.” The charges stemmed from a song criticizing government corruption. Doukali is currently appealing the verdict. (Enforced by: Moroccan court)

What can you do?

  • Stay informed about human rights abuses against artists worldwide.
  • Share information about these cases on social media.
  • Contact your elected officials and urge them to speak out against the suppression of artistic expression.
  • Support organizations working to defend the rights of artists and writers.

Remember, silence is complicity. Lend your voice to those who cannot speak for themselves.

First they came for the artists, and I did not speak out—because I was not an artist. Then they came for the journalists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a journalist. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

— Martin Niemöller

Art by Luba Lukova

Sources:

  • South China Morning Post
  • Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
  • Committee to Protect Journalists
  • The Guardian
  • Freedom House

Disclaimer: This information is based on publicly available reports and may not be complete or entirely accurate. For the latest updates and details, please consult reputable human rights organizations.

By Gemini and Perplexity

NAVALNY TRIAL TAKES CENTER STAGE IN SWEDISH ROYAL THEATER ·

(Austin Malloy’s article appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, March 30, 2024.

Navalny: The Trial by the Royal Drama Theater in Stockholm brings the late Russian opposition leader’s battle against Russian President Vladimir Putin to the stage. The play is based on what is widely seen as a politically motivated court case against Aleksei Navalny, who had returned to Russia in 2021 after surviving a poison attack that he blamed on Kremlin agents. The trial ended with Navalny being sent to prison, where he died in February in suspicious circumstances.

‘THE KALEVALA’  (LISTEN NOW ON BBC RADIO 4–IN OUR TIME–DISCUSSION PROGRAM) ·

THE KALEVALA

Listen now

In Our Time

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Finnish epic poem that first appeared in print in 1835 in what was then the Grand Duchy of Finland, part of the Russian Empire and until recently part of Sweden. The compiler of this epic was a doctor, Elias Lönnrot (1802-1884), who had travelled the land to hear traditional poems about mythical heroes being sung in Finnish, the language of the peasantry, and writing them down in his own order to create this landmark work. In creating The Kalevala, Lönnrot helped the Finns realise they were a distinct people apart from Sweden and Russia, who deserved their own nation state and who came to demand independence, which they won in 1917. With Riitta Valijärvi Associate Professor in Finnish and Minority Languages at University College London Thomas Dubois The Halls-Bascom Professor of Scandinavian Folklore and Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison And Daniel Abondolo Formerly Reader in Hungarian at University College

London Producer: Simon Tillotson

 

SPEAK FOR THEM: ARTISTS THEY CAME FOR (MARCH 11TH, 2024 – MARCH 25TH, 2024) ·

The world continues to witness the silencing of artistic expression. This week’s list focuses on artists facing persecution between March 11th and March 25th, 2024. Let us delve deeper into their stories and understand the forces that seek to suppress their voices.

  1. Mariatu Kamara, Filmmaker, Sierra Leone (March 18th): Detained and questioned in Freetown after a screening of her documentary, “Kissi Flowers,” which criticizes the deep-rooted practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Sierra Leonean culture. While released, Mariatu fears future harassment for tackling such a sensitive topic that challenges societal norms. (Enforced by: Sierra Leonean police)
  2. Xu Xiaodong, Martial Artist and Blogger, China (March 15th): Xu’s online channel, “Iron Tiger Fight Club,” known for hosting interviews with intellectuals and activists critical of government censorship, was abruptly shut down. Videos deemed “subversive” were removed, and his whereabouts remain unknown. This crackdown highlights China’s ongoing efforts to control online discourse. (Enforced by: Chinese authorities)
  3. The No Name Orchestra, Musicians, Belarus (March 22nd): During a performance in Minsk, the No Name Orchestra, known for its blend of rock and folk music with lyrics that often touch on social issues, had their performance interrupted by police. Instruments were confiscated after the band refused to stop playing songs deemed “subversive” by the authorities. Facing fines and potential performance bans, the band’s future remains uncertain. (Enforced by: Belarusian police)
  4. Dmitry Ivanov, Cartoonist, Russia (March 12th): Security forces raided Dmitry’s apartment in Moscow, detaining him for questioning. His satirical cartoons, often mocking government corruption and political figures, have gained popularity online. Released with a warning, Dmitry’s case exemplifies the chilling effect on free expression in Russia. (Enforced by: Russian security forces)
  5. Layla Nasir, Poet, Palestine (March 20th): Summoned for interrogation by Israeli authorities in Jerusalem after a public reading of her poems. Layla’s work frequently criticizes the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. This incident highlights the ongoing restrictions on Palestinian freedom of expression, particularly regarding political speech. (Enforced by: Israeli authorities)
  6. A group of bloggers, Vietnam (March 17th): Multiple bloggers were arrested in Hanoi for their online criticism of a proposed environmental development project in central Vietnam. The project, suspected to involve government corruption, has sparked public outcry. Facing charges of “disrupting public order,” these arrests demonstrate Vietnam’s tightening grip on online dissent. (Enforced by: Vietnamese government)
  7. Nguyen Van Trung, Journalist, Vietnam (March 24th): Nguyen, a reporter for a local newspaper in Ho Chi Minh City, was fired after publishing investigative reports on human rights abuses by local officials. He now faces potential criminal charges, highlighting the risks faced by journalists in Vietnam who dare to expose wrongdoing. (Enforced by: Vietnamese government)
  8. Kim Min-seo, Singer, South Korea (March 13th): During a live broadcast on a popular talent show, Kim expressed support for LGBTQ+ rights. This act of defiance resulted in her immediate removal from the competition. The incident sparked online discussions about South Korea’s social conservatism and the silencing of those who advocate for marginalized groups. (Enforced by: South Korean television network)
  9. Barbara Rodriguez, Painter, Cuba (March 21st): Barbara’s exhibition showcasing paintings that depicted themes of political and social unrest was abruptly shut down by the Cuban Ministry of Culture. Her artwork was confiscated, and she faces potential fines and suspension of her art license. This incident reflects the Cuban government’s restrictions on artistic expression that does not conform to the state’s ideology. (Enforced by: Cuban Ministry of Culture)
  10. Mustafa Kemal, Playwright, Turkey (March 19th): Mustafa’s play, “Children of Ararat,” which explores themes of Kurdish cultural identity, was banned from production by the Turkish Ministry of Culture. The Kurdish population in Turkey faces ongoing government restrictions on their cultural expression. This incident highlights the suppression of minority voices in the country. (Enforced by: Turkish Ministry of Culture)

What can you do?

  • Stay informed about artists and writers facing injustice. Share their stories and raise awareness.
  • Support organizations working for freedom of expression and human rights.
  • Contact your local representatives and urge them to advocate for these individuals.
  • Consider donating to organizations providing legal aid and support to persecuted artists.

Remember, silence is complicity. Lend your voice to those who cannot speak for themselves.

First they came for the artists, and I did not speak out—because I was not an artist. Then they came for the journalists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a journalist. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

— Martin Niemöller

Art by Luba Lukova

The information presented in the list of artists and writers facing injustice is based on reports and statements from the following reputable human rights organizations:

  • Disclaimer: This information is based on publicly available reports and may not be complete or entirely accurate. For the latest updates and details, please consult reputable human rights organizations.

(Gemini, the large language model from Google AI, provided information, insights, and materials for this article.)

OPINION: REMEMBRANCE AND TREACHERY SIDE-BY-SIDE IN TODAY’S UKRAINE ·

(Andriy Kurkov’s article appeared in the Kyiv Post, 3/24.  Photo: Candles are displayed on letters reading the word “Children” in Russian language during a commemorative event to mark the first anniversary of the bombing of the Mariupol Drama Theatre, held in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on March 16, 2023. YURIY DYACHYSHYN / AFP)

Across Ukraine theaters that were once places of joy and entertainment have become memorials to one of the largest tragedies experienced during Russia’s war on Kyiv.

In many Ukrainian cities, people gaze sadly at almost every theater, in front of which the word “Children” is written in large letters often with candles burning next to the inscription.

Two years ago, on March 16, a Russian bomber attacked the Donetsk Academic Regional Drama Theater in Mariupol in which hundreds of citizens, including children, were sheltering. On the asphalt outside, the word “children” was written in huge letters, especially intended to alert Russian pilots of their presence. But it did not prevent the destruction of the theater and the murder of the innocent people inside.

In memory of all the civilians who died in Mariupol, on March 16 this year, actors who had escaped from the city painted the word “children” in front of the theater in Uzhhorod where they now live and work.

This date is not an official day of remembrance, included in the state calendar of memorial events. This might be understandable, as there are now so many tragic dates that almost every day could be one of mourning. But some events should be remembered and kept in the public eye, even as Russia commits more crimes.

Ukrainians themselves took to the streets to honor the memory of soldiers and volunteers murdered by Russia in the Olenevka prisoner of war camp, on July 29, 2022, and to remember the victims of the bombing and shelling of residential buildings in Vinnytsia, Dnipro, Kharkiv and Odesa.

Odesa residents will now have another day of mourning on their calendar – March 15. Among the 21 dead and more than 45 injured in the missile attack, just last week, were many police officers and rescue workers. City officials who went to the scene of devastation were also killed. The mayor of the city, Gennady Trukhanov, who was once considered to be a pro-Russian politician, was almost killed.

Another mayor who before the war was considered pro-Russian is Yuri Vilkul – the mayor of President Zelensky’s hometown of Kryvyi Rih. Today he heads the city’s military administration doing everything possible to protect Kryvyi Rih from Russian attacks.

There are no pro-Russian politicians left in Ukraine, but it seems that there are still some ordinary citizens who, for money or because of pro-Russian beliefs, pass information to the Russian army.

(Read more)

MOSCOW ATTACK: VIDEO CAPTURES GUNMEN STORMING CONCERT HALL AND SHOOTING 40 DEAD | BBC NEWS ·

*** WARNING graphic content Russia’s state security services say at least forty people are dead, and over a hundred injured, after heavily armed gunmen burst into a packed theatre near Moscow,  and opened fire. It happened at the Crocus Concert Hall, part of which is in flames, after explosives were detonated. Video images show the gunmen, in military camouflage, walking through the venue and shooting their victims. Ukraine has said it had nothing to do with the atrocity. The Islamic State group has said that it was behind the attack but that has not been confirmed. Clive Myrie presents BBC News at Ten reporting by Steve Rosenberg in Moscow, Sarah Smith in Washington, Sarah Rainsford in Kyiv and security correspondent Gordon Corera. Subscribe here: http://bit.ly/1rbfUog For more news, analysis and features visit: www.bbc.com/news #BBCNews

Photo: The Mirror