The titular Arcadia is Sidley Park, Estate of the earl of Croom. We enter Sidley park at the dawn of the 19th century, and today, as two parallel storylines converge to resolve a literary mystery. Arcadia is a Wildely brilliant farce, which examines the spirit of an age and it’s relationship to time, the mathematics of chaos and it’s relationship to determinism, and whether knowledge is ultimately discovered or created. The play was written in 1993, and first staged at the Lyttelton Theatre in London, starring Rufus Sewell, Felicity Kendal and Bill Nighy. It was awarded the Lawrence Oliver award for best new play, and the Tony for best play. Today we discuss whether the work achieves its aim of marrying rapier wit to intellectual rigor, or merely orders the chaos of half understood ideas to don a costume of regency verbiage.
‘Reading Plays‘ is a discussion show, featuring Gareth Stack and James Van De Waal. Each week we do a close reading of a modern play, discussing it’s merits, themes, issues raised, and so on. You can play along by reading or watching a production of the play before you listen to the show.
Next weeks play Doubt by JP Shanley. We’re actively soliciting suggestions for what plays to read in the coming weeks and months. If there’s a play you’d like us to discuss – especially if it’s less well known, or if there’s a production of it coming to Dublin soon, let us know in the comments below.
The Misanthrope (or the ‘The Cantankerous Lover’) by Moliere, is a comedy first performed at the Theatre du Palais-Royal in 1666. Despite its age the play deals with modern concerns, like the nature of friendship and the choice to embrace cynicism over solipsism. Although absent the careful plotting, dynamic staging or linguistic experimentalism of modern theatre, Moliere’s wit remains alive and entertaining. The influence of his barbed dialogue and high society brinkmanship can be seen in writers from as Oscar Wilde to Whit Stillman.
In life Moliere (born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin) was a controversial figure. Arguably one of the first literary celebrities, he was accused of numerous villainies, including having illegitimately fathered his much younger wife.
He once wrote ‘Doubts are more cruel than the worst of truths’, and it is this ambiguity that lies at the heart of The Misanthrope. Moliere writes ‘one cannot look into the heart’. Thus we vacillate between paranoia and pronoia, never certain in this life of the nobility of our actions, or whether moral pragmatism is ultimately more valid than holding a steady course. Is it true, as the cynically flirtatious Celimene says, ‘It is easy… to blame or praise everything and everyone may be right, according to their age and taste’. Or is there a moral centre to life, we may avoid or obey, according to our character.
We read the Henri Van Laun public domain translation of the play from the university of Adelaide.
Next weeks play Arcadia [PDF] by Tom Stoppard. We’re actively soliciting suggestions for what plays to read in the coming weeks and months. If there’s a play you’d like us to discuss – especially if it’s less well known, or if there’s a production of it coming to Dublin soon, let us know in the comments below.