Honestly, I’m not really all that sure whether I appreciated the Bell Shakespeare Company bringing this play into the 20th Century in much the same way that they do with quite a lot of their plays. The thing is that while the idea behind a lot of plays are timeless, somethings seeing a performance set in the original setting is so much better than having to sit through another modern Australian adaptation. Yet the truth is that it is more than possible to have this play set in the modern period, and something having such a setting does bring to light the comedy that not only made Moliere so popular, but also brought him into a lot of conflict with the powers that be (of course, the pictures on the post are not from this particular version, namely because I prefer to keep things original).
I guess the other thing we need to be aware is that this place was written in 17th Century French, so I’m not entirely sure whether performing it as it was originally written would have gone down so well with Australian audiences. As such one does need to at least translate the play, though when they introduced it by saying that it was based upon Moliere as opposed to actually being Moliere, sort of rubbed me up a little. I guess it has something to do with seeing so many of these adaptations that a part of me yearns for some originality.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it wasn’t a good play. Sure, the back that they pretty much over used the rhyming technique really, really started to get to me. Poetry is written by meter, not by rhyme, and in a way I feel that using rhyme is somewhat childish. Hey, Dr Suess, a poetic genius who wrote some incredible children’s books didn’t always use rhyme (at least I believe that is the case because I don’t have any of his books on hand). However, while rhyme is one way of creating poetry, it is the meter that is the one that sets the amateurs apart from the geniuses.
Yet upon reading the little booklet that I picked up at the show I discovered that the writer felt exactly the same. The thing is that the French language, as beautiful as it is, really works well when it comes to rhyme, and Moliere used it extensively. However, he was also aware that this doesn’t really come across in English, and a lot of playwrights, realising that using rhyming couplets can sound pretty lame, and childish, usually dispense with it and just stick with blank verse, as Shakespeare did. However, I have to admit that it really did eventually grate with me, but that might have something to do with the Australianisation of the play.
So the story is about that person name Alceste. In the original he is male, whereas here Alceste is female. I don’t think that is all that much of an issue though. The thing is that Alceste is a huge critic of basically, well, everything, and she gets herself into a lot of trouble when she decides to voice her opinion. The play opens with her in a lot of trouble, and she is there with her best friend when she is approached by another popular artist who wants to share a song with her.
Well, out pops a country and/or western number, and of course her best friend thinks it is marvelous. Not so with Alceste as she spends here entire time ripping it to bits. Not surprisingly the artist is somewhat put off by Alceste’s criticism and storms out in anger, declaring that she has not her the last of him.
As it turns out, Alceste has a boyfriend, or should I say a lover. Well, if it was in the original French setting I think lover would be an appropriate term to use, but instead we are in the Australian entertainment scene, so I’m not sure where lover, or even love interest, is all that appropriate. I’m not sure if the term boyfriend is also all that appropriate since he seems not just be a bit of a flirt, but a lot of a flirt.
Well, that isn’t all that surprising, since he is one of those boy-band singers – you know, like Justin Beiber. Well, that is probably a little unfair on Beiber since he is quite monogomous, but you know the character trope. The guy that has millions of adoring teenage fans, and is more than willing to play the field behind the scenes. Yet for some reason Alceste is attracted to him. I guess it is that Alceste is human after all. Sure, she is a really harsh critic, but she also has a softer side.
So, that is basically the play. It really has a lot to do with Alceste dodging attacks from those that she has criticised, her boyfriend playing the field, and others attempting to grab his attention. Mind you, it does all fall apart for both Alceste and her boyfriend, particularly when everything comes to light. Well, despite the fact that she is one enormous crank, she also has her admirers, but as is the case, when they decide that their current pursuits are simply not worth it, her admirer is suddenly interested in somebody else.
The play finishes with the boyfriend sitting down dejected, and no longer has the heart to sing with the passion that he once did, while Alceste has basically decides to walk out on the entire scene, which two of her friends chasing after her to make sure that she doesn’t do anything silly.
This is the thing that makes me wonder though, because criticism is part and parcel of the entertainment industry. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t think too hard about it, but in the original, being set in the French court, being a critic probably did a lot more to earn enemies than it would in today’s circles. Sure, nobody likes critics, particularly when they disagree with our views. In fact, I generally ignore the opinions of professional critics when it comes to movies and books because they seem to be so far away from my opinion that it is simply not worth the time to either listen to or read them. Sure, there are people that do, but I am not one of them.
Okay, Alceste pretty much hates everything, and is an absolute nitpicker, but I’m not entirely sure whether this is something that anybody could rightfully sue her for. Sure, if the attacks were personal, were lies, and where designed to ruin somebody’s reputation, then sure, there is defamation, but to provide criticism for a work of art, even if the criticism is always, and without fail, bad, then I’m not entirely sure whether that will work. Okay, there are some organisations out there that go out of their way to shut down criticism – McLibel is a classic example of that – but in the entertainment industry I’m not really all that sure.
However, we can’t forget that Alceste is pretty harsh in her judgements, and being a misanthrope, you can be assure that she is going to get personal at times, and this is where I suspect the problem lies. She never seems to be happy with anything, and is always looking for some flaw to point out. Actually, I’m not entirely sure whether she would be able to survive if she did, but I guess that is the issue that is coming about. The thing is that in French society one was a noble whether others liked it or not, but in the modern entertainment industry, one can be dropped in a flash, and thus your career is over – you don’t even need to be a Kevin Spacey of a Harvey Weinstein for that to happen.
Though there is probably a very good reason why Alceste remained where she was. Once again it is a club, and once you have been accepted by that club, then they are unlikely to drop you, despite you being as harsh as Alceste. The thing is that everybody knows what Alceste is like, and sure, you get these newbies coming along thinking that they can challenge her, but in reality she is a sticker – she isn’t going away.
Yet there is also the issue of Cymbeline, something that grabbed my attention the first time I read the play. You see, with a play entitled The Misanthrope, I was expecting something more along the lines of Timon of Athens as opposed to a comedy. Yet Alceste is in love, and is in love with somebody who surely would be the bane of her existence. Cymbeline literally represents everything that Alceste hates about the industry, yet they are lovers (for want of a better word). Okay, Cymbeline really seems to be playing Alceste for a fool, but one has to wonder why she actually sees in him.
I guess this is the crux of the play – it does not matter how bitter and critical Alceste is, she is still a human and is still caught up with human passions. I guess that is one of those questions that will remain unanswered for ever – why do people fall in love even though the whole idea of these two people being together is absolutely absurd. For all of Alceste’s criticism of the industry not only is she a part of it, she refuses to walk away from it.
Interestingly we notice how Cymbeline is destroyed at the end of the play, when his shenanigans come to light. The thing is that he really is somewhat of a philanderer, despite the fact that he assured Alceste that he was not. Alceste eventually walks away, turning her back on the whole sordid scene, while Cymbeline is left a dejected wreck, not able to sing in the way that he sung before the truth was reveal.
This is something to take note of, because the truth really has that nasty habit of coming to life. Just think of that time when you were as far away from home as you could ever be, and you run into somebody that you know. That happened to me at the Hong Kong airport, and even happened to me in Sydney, as I was greeted by a friend who was running to the airport. The thing is that we don’t know who is around, who is watching, and we certainly don’t know when we will encounter somebody who knows us, or something comes to light that exposes everything about us. Sure, there is all this thing about privacy, but no matter how hard we try to keep things secret, sometimes somebody is going to walk in on us when we least expect it.
One of the interesting things about the play was that the stage opened with it completely cluttered, but ended with pretty much nothing there. It seems as if the whole facade that was the entertainment industry was being stripped away. Yet it also had a lot to do with the things that we are able to hide behind slowly being taken away until who we really are is suddenly revealed. Cymbelene is exposed as a philander, and Alceste turns her back on the industry realising that there is nothing there left for her.
Yet is the entertainment industry like the French court of the 17th Century? Well, quite possibly. The thing is that entertainers today are like the new nobility. Sure, the politicians have the member’s bar, and sure, we may dislike them and distrust them, but compared to what goes on in the entertainment industry, they seem comparatively tame. The thing is that entertainers can get away with quite a lot more than people in the more respectable positions. Wild parties and ostentatious living seems to be the norm where they are concerned.
Interestingly, many of the riches to rags stories out there seem to concern entertainers more than businessmen. It seems as if businessmen are able to restrain their spending habits, and not live as outlandishly as the entertainers do. I guess that has a lot to do with entertainers being in the lime light. They have a image that they want to uphold, and they are very visible people. As such, they tend to live a lot more outlandishly in attempting to maintain that image, where as the businessmen really seem to exist and work behind the scenes.
Harsh Criticism – The Misanthrope by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me