Wednesday, 26 December 2007

The Knight of the Burning Pestle

Happy Christmas, everyone. I spent the day improving relations with my parents' neighbours by tuning a set of sore-neglected bagpipes. My brother harmonised with the whipper-snipper. If anyone is to blame for this, it's the aforementioned parents. They bought the bagpipes (18 years ago). They bought the whipper-snipper (this month). They produced the offending offspring (at various junctures between 1969 and 1978). Moral: if you don't want noisy descendants, don't have any; if you do have them, buy them quiet toys.

Meanwhile, back in the land of pottering around the internet, I've just become aware of The Knight of the Burning Pestle, first staged in 1607. Why I've never heard of The Knight of the Burning Pestle, but I hear on an almost weekly basis of King Lear (which first rolled off the presses the following year) beats me, unless it's something to do with branding. (That's "branding" as in "marketing-a-brand", in this case, Shakespeare TM, not "branding" as in burning one's initials into a wee calfie's back leg or nuffing.) King Lear, I hereby declare, at the risk of alienating whole generations of Higher School Certificate students and Harold Blooms, is a dud. It's nothing but eye-gouging and bad parenting and wise-guy/fool inversions and threatened incest and battles and sibling rivalry and existential angst and malicious weather and discrimination against kids whose parents weren't married and lines like "Out, vile jelly!", which shouldn't be spake directly after lunch.

The Knight of the Burning Pestle, on the other hand, has pestles. You can download him here. I will give a dollar to anyone prepared to stage this play. If your name is Baz Luhrmann, I'll make it two dollars.


TimT said...

King Lear, a dud?

Never never never never never!

alexis said...

Or as Lear himself said elsewhere, "Howl howl howl howl". Quite.

TimT said...

Lear probably reads better than it's performed on stage. Could be that Shakespeare is more interested in evoking certain ideas about pain and personal suffering than in inducing the cringe factor due to the eye-gouging, etc. (Though he's probably interested in the cringe factor, too). I remember reading it a few years ago and loving all the talk about the weather, and the grand rhetoric. There's a key quote at the end of the play, I can't remember what it is exactly or where, but Lear cries that outward suffering and chaos is nothing compared to inner torment and mental decay. I loved that. There's some great Lear quotes (and some frankly weird ones) here. My favourite is maybe -

As flies are to wanton boys,
So are we to the Gods:
They play us for their sport.

Don't know about pestles in general, apart from the fact that they feature heavily in stories about the Russian evil grandmother Baba Yaga, and that in the flat in Alice Springs that I was staying with my parents, there was a mortar and pestle that looked suspicously like a dildo. It was very disturbing.

eyrie said...

Did any of you see Barrie Kosky's production of King Lear quite a few years back now? I've always loved King Lear, ever since I had to do it for the HSC. My sister and I were very fond of "Out, vile jelly! Where is thy lustre now?, etc.

Mortars and pestles are fun (where they are not Freudian). It's one of the few cooking things I can do, since there's no danger of cutting myself and it appeals to my finely developed destructive urges at the same time.

TimT said...

At least Freudian pestles allow people to multi-task. It is a small compensation.

eyrie said...

Some tasks merit undivided attention, so there is no compensation and life is a vale of tears or, in keeping with the topic at hand, a perpetual stormy night with few hovels in which one might shelter.

My personal fixation is light fittings in hotel rooms that resemble mammary glands (there are many, once one starts looking). I dare not begin the self-analysis.

alexis said...

Funnily enough - and this may not be a complete coincidence - this morning my sister & co. presented me with a mortar and pestle. Great big granite job. (Strictly for the purposes of food preparation, I might add.) I knew it.

As for Lear, I knew that as soon as I poked my toe in his general direction, whole teams of learphiles would leap from their snow-daubed nooks, wrench out their eyes and start defending him. Yairs, yairs. It's a provocative exploration of the human condition, an interrogation of the very order of things, it's got some good lines about God and nothing and fatherhood and stuff ... but really where are the pestles?

eyrie said...

The Lear-o-philia must be strong when the reliably divisive figure of Baz Luhrmann draws no fire.

Perhaps we are to assume that Reagan and Goneril have pestles in their kitchens- would that make it better?

Hugo the Hippo said...

The burning pestle is a much-maligned theatrical device, first attested, as far as I can tell, in the equally much-maligned Aristophenes' Peace.
I will hear no ill about a utensil capable of transforming a collection of warring city-states into frittata ingredients.

alexis said...

Three cheers for the Golden Age of the Athenian Pestle. It's been all down hill since Aristophanes.

TimT said...

Aristophanes' bottles of oil are a bit of alright, tho':

EURIPEDES. Nonsense; I say my prologues are first-rate.

ÆSCHYLUS. Nay, then, by Zeus, no longer line by line
I’ll maul your phrases: but with heaven to aid
I’ll smash your prologues with a bottle of oil.

EUR. You mine with a bottle of oil?

ÆSCH. With only one.
You frame your prologues so that each and all
Fit in with a “bottle of oil,” or “coverlet-skin,”
Or “reticule-bag.” I’ll prove it here, and now.

EUR. You’ll prove it? You? ÆSCH. I will. DIOGENES. Well, then, begin.

EUR. Aegyptus, sailing with his fifty sons,
As ancient legends mostly tell the tale,
Touching at Argos, ÆSCH. Lost his bottle of oil.

EUR. Hang it, what’s that? Confound that bottle of oil!

DIO. Give him another: let him try again.

EUR. Bacchus, who, clad in fawnskins, leaps and bounds
With torch and thyrsus in the choral dance
Along Parnassus. ÆSCH. Lost his bottle of oil.

DIO. Ah me, we are stricken—with that bottle again!

EUR. Pooh, pooh, that’s nothing. I’ve a prologue here,
He’ll never tack his bottle of oil to this:

No man is blest in every single thing.
One is of noble birth, but lacking means.
Another, baseborn, ÆSCH. Lost his bottle of oil.

DIO. Euripedes! EUR. Well? DIO. Lower your sails, my boy;
This bottle of oil is going to blow a gale.

EUR. O, by Demeter, I don’t care one bit;
Now from his hands I’ll strike that bottle of oil.

DIO. Go on then, go; but ware the bottle of oil.

EUR. Once Cadmus, quitting the Sidonian town,
Agenor’s offspring ÆSCH. Lost his bottle of oil.

DIO. O, pray, my man, buy off that bottle of oil,
Or else he’ll smash our prologues all to bits.

EUR. I buy of him? DIO. If my advice you’ll take.

EUR. No, no I’ve many a prologue yet to say,
To which he can’t tack on his bottle of oil.

Pelops, the son of Tantalus, while driving
His mares to Pisa ÆSCH. Lost his bottle of oil.

DIO. There! he tacked on the bottle of oil again.
O, for heaven’s sake, pay him its price, dear boy;
You’ll get it for an obol, spick-and-span.

EUR. Not yet, by Zeus; I’ve plenty of prologues left.
Oeneus once reaping ÆSCH. Lost his bottle of oil.

EUR. Pray let me finish one entire line first.

Oeneus once reaping an abundant harvest,
Offering the firstfruits ÆSCH. Lost his bottle of oil.

DIO. What, in the act of offering? Fie! Who stole it?

EUR. O, don’t keep bothering! Let him try with this!
Zeus, as by Truth’s own voice the tale is told,

DIO. No, he’ll cut in with “Lost his bottle of oil.”
Those bottles of oil on all your prologues seem
To gather and grow, like styes upon the eye.
Turn to his melodies now, for goodness’ sake.

Inam said...

"The Knight of the Burning Pestle" is a great play!!! It would give any postmodern work of art a run for its money, with the amount of pastiche, parody and meta-theatre that is ingrained into the text of the play. i know this, coz we just performed this play in about 4 places, as part of our English Literature course at Jadavpur University, Calcutta. Every year, we do a play in the Drama in Practice paper to learn better about drama than we could ever by just reading the text. I played the love-sick and cunning Jasper (with a touch of parody on the stereotypical romantic heroes in Hindi / Indian films) while we had a Rafe, the knight, who parodied everything from comic book superheroes to Elvis Presley; it was a carnival!!!!
The play was directed, like every year, by our professor Dr. Ananda Lal (who is also the most emminent theatre critic in India).

alexis said...

Clearly, Inam, I owe you and/or Dr Ananda Lal a dollar. Choose your currency, and I'll write out a cheque forthwith. I wish I could have seen your production, but alas time (it's too late) and airfares (they're too expensive) prohibit.