Withering Bites

“‘Lucky Jim’ Goes to the Internet”

Writing the Cricket Bat and Scene Five February 17, 2009

Filed under: Courtney,Text,The Real Thing,Tom Stoppard — noisyhope @ 10:40 pm

Scene Five is to Art in The Real Thing, as Scene Seven is to Love.

Got it?  w00t, analogies.

It is home to two of my favorite speeches, the first of which I quote in my “About Me” page on this site, and a mantra whenever I find myself with a blank page or screen before me.

I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are.  They deserve respect.  If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a ittle or make a poem which children will speak for you when you’re dead.

Sometimes, I find nothing more beautiful than these three sentences.  But they carry even greater weight when taken in the context of Henry and Annie’s argument.

Scene Five is mostly an argument between Henry and his new wife as he tries to “clean up” Brodie’s autobiographical teleplay/manifesto.  Yep, you read that right.  Henry argues that there’s no way to save the script; it’s loaded with cliches, filled with stale and idiotic ideas, and poorly constructed at that.  Annie defends Brodie, and does this by calling her playwright husband a snob, arguing that his concept of “good writing” is warped:

You judge everything as yout everyone starts off fromt he same place, aiming at the same prize.  Eng. Lit.  Shakespeare out in front by a mile, and the rest of the field strung out behind trying to close the gap.  You all write for people would like to write like you if only they could write.

And for half a second, you could listen to Annie and believe it, until you remember that she speaks mostly nonsense, as Henry indicates in the cricket-bat speech, which is so wonderful, and since this isn’t a paper, I’m including the whole damn thing.

This [cricket bat] here, which looks like a wooden club, i s actually several pieces of particular wood cunningly put together in a certain way so that the whole thing is sprung, like a dance floor.  It’s for hitting cricket balls with.  If you get it right, the cricket ball will travel two hundred yards in four seconds, and all you’ve done is give it a knock like knocking the top off a bottle of stout, and it makes a noise like a trout taking a fly… (He clucks his tongue to make the noise.) What we’re trying to do is write cricket bats, so that when we throw up an idea and give it a little knock it might... travel… (He clucks his tongue again and picks up [Brodie’s] script.) Now, what we’ve got here is a lump of wood of roughly the same shape trying to be a cricket bat, and if you hit a ball with it, the ball will travel about ten feet and you will drop the bat and dance about shouting ‘Ouch!’ with your hands stuck into your armpits.  (indicating the cricket bat) This isn’t better because someone says it’s better, or because there’s a conspiracy by the MCC to keep cudgels out of Lords.  It’s better because it’s better.  You don’t believe me, so I suggest you go out to bat with this and see how you get on.  [he reads] ‘You’re a strange boy, Billy, how old are you?’ ‘Twenty, but I’ve lived more than you’ll ever live.’ Ooh, ouch!

He drops the script and hops about with his hands in his armpits, going ‘Ouch!’

Did you fall in love with Henry just then?  I know I did.

In this scene, Stoppard does a phenomenal job illustrating the authenticity of art, and what makes good art, well, good, that it is a matter of craft and not opinion.  But, you can admit, Annie does her best to make a good argument.  She’s just no Henry.

Surrounding these speeches, in the scene, and even in the duration of the play, Stoppard invites the audience to question the authenticity of motivation behind these works of art.  At the end of the play, Henry has doctored Brodie’s script and humiliated himself for Annie.  He writes screenplays (quelle horreur!) in order to support keep them living in the style to which they have become accustomed, and never completes his play for her; because that’s one cricket bat he can’t quite master.

And the more I read this play, and the more I think on it, I do believe that Henry believes words are sacred, much moreso than their craftsmen, but I have to wonder if he ever wrote a cricket bat, or feels that he had.

 

Happy, Like a Warm Puppy: Love and Scene Seven February 9, 2009

Filed under: Courtney,Text,The Real Thing,Tom Stoppard — noisyhope @ 12:03 am

First, I adore this play.  I devoured it one day the first time I read it two years ago, and whenever I’m in some sort of quandry regarding art or love (politics and I cross paths less often than the other two), I find myself picking it up again and finding something I hadn’t noticed last time.  When I discussed it with a professor for a paper, he and I argued about what could be my favorite scene, Scene Seven; when Debbie is leaving to go on the road with her boyfriend and she and Henry try to reconcile themselves to each other, explain how they feel about love, and Charlotte drops her great revelation.

Henry delivers a monologue that (I’ve been assured) looks awkward as hell staged, but, experiencing the words alone, I find it to be one of the most beautiful and articulate descriptions of sexual intimacy:

We share our vivacity, grief, sulks, anger, joy… we hand it out to anybody who happens to be standing around, to friends and family with a momentary sense of indecency perhaps, to strangers without hesitation.  Our lovers share us with the passing trade.  But in pairs we insist that we give ourselves to each other.  What selves?  What’s left?  What else is there that hasn’t been dealt out like a deck of cards?  A sense of knowledge.  Personal, final, uncompromised.  Knowing, being known.  I revere that.

And so he continues on for several more lines after he’s been going awhile, for his darling daughter Debbie to ask him flatly, “Has Annie got someone else then?”

This perfect moment follows several other beats of Henry and Debbie matching wits, she delivers the syllogism “That’s what free love is free of – propaganda,” and he offers that it should be “of love.”  They argue the definition of fidelity and its relation to his last successful play.  However, none of this compares to the conversation that is to follow with his first wife and Debbie’s mother, Charlotte.

Just to step away from the scene for a moment, I want to sing the praises of Stoppard’s description of Charlotte when she is formally introduced in Scene Two: “Henry is amiable but can take care of himself.  Charlotte is less amiable and can take even better care of herself.  . . . Annie is very much like the woman Charlotte has ceased to be.” Just between the x of us, I want to be Charlotte if I ever grow up.

Back to our (totally awesome!) heroine.  Charlotte picks up where her daughter left off, asking her ex-husband about his current marriage with the mistress who ended theirs.  (Did you follow that?  Great, thanks.)  She wonders why he isn’t curious about Annie’s fidelity while she’s away, and confesses to infidelities during their marriage, because Henry didn’t seem to care and surely he must be doing the same thing, only to realize his loyalty too late; it didn’t matter.  She gloats after his inquiry, “look what your one did compared to my nine.”

And she follows this up with a speech, much shorter than Henry’s that I believe is The Big Point (possibly, the Real Thing?) behind the play – what The Real Thing is, with regards to love.  According to Stoppard.

There are no commitments [in love], only bargains.  And they have to be made again every day.  You think making a commitment is it.  Finish.  You think it sets like a concrete platform and it’ll take any strain you want to put on it.  You’re committed.

Charlotte and Debbie make more sense to me, at least with regards to love, than any other characters in the play.  Henry is still learning the game, Annie cheats (I can’t tell if that was intended), Max is a sore loser.  Debbie stands along the sidelines with her mother, but their commentary brings the audience closer to the real thing than any moment spent between Henry and Annie.  And so ends my catechism.

Have a great Valentine’s Day, everyone.