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Whether it is "Redefining literary techniques and devices", "Justifying Papua New Guinea Literature", or "Translating the Bible into Anuki", these offer valuable reading for the paperless student of literature, and indeed the best sort of literary entertainment you can get out of Papua New Guinea. Check them out either on Soaba's Storyboard or The Anuki Country Press.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Step aside, Shakespeare!

Pray, dinghy operator, heave thy vessel closer, shoreward...
Could Shakespeare step aside? Alluding to the sort of power play observed at the Papua New Guinean national parliament?

Of course the bard can!

But wait. One of the great literary devices in imaginative literature is irony. Those familiar with storyboard’s widely read article through these blogs, “Redefining literary techniques and devices,” should now be able to distinguish the differences between literary techniques and devices. And yes, irony is a literary device, not a technique.

It is the sort of device that made Cleopatra get rid of her messenger first and hear the bad news that she was losing a war later. The irony there is straightforward. With or without that messenger with the bad news you are still losing the war. But the most famous of ironies in any Shakespearean tragedy is that of a hero soaring to the heights of fame and glory just to fall at a slight detection by peers of a personal flaw. No one goes scot free.

Thus, Othello the powerful general in command of several hundred soldiers discovers that he is weak of heart just like any one of us. Or Coriolanus, for that matter, a spoilt brat of an aristocrat and once Rome’s most powerful general would learn towards the end of his colourful career as a soldier and gentleman that the only personal record worth keeping of him was the fact that he was Lady Volumnia’s son, nothing more, nothing less.

Elsewhere, and away from Shakespeare, other examples of literary irony abound. One such example is Percy Bysshe Shelley’s sonnet, Ozymandias, where one reads of a powerful Pharaoh sneering at those who dare criticise his lifetime achievements with the curt remark: “Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!” What follows in the reader’s mind is the powerful imagery of a kingdom in the form of a sea of desert stretching far away.

There is really nothing to see there.

But the irony in all this, and we now come to the point of what storyboard is getting at, is that the poet who penned those words remains in the minds of humanity for centuries on end and will probably do so for as long as that humanity lives on to remember. Indeed, the very consciousness of literature and art in our lives is the thing that lasts forever. It will never step aside.

And here’s the oracle about literature overall that will blow your minds: that a literary device lasts, whereas a literary technique as a supportive companion in literary creation does not. The technique as noted in Shakespeare is the bard’s choice of theatre as an avenue through which he told England and does the world today that the Greco-Roman world was and is worth study. The device noted in his craft is the choice of character study in that Greco-Roman world. Each of these tragic heroes is worth studying for no other purpose than for us to learn the truth most common to us all. The plebeians eat as much as the aristocrats, even though the manner of eating for each one may differ. But they all eat all the same. And that’s the common truth. The word grain (as in The Tragedy of Coriolanus) becomes food as much as a political tool for all parties concerned. But it is the sort of word that causes powerful men such as Caius Martius Coriolanus to begin experiencing certain obstacles in their career developments. Then, of course, they lose patience and in some cases start swearing.

On that last point storyboard would usually point out to his students that Coriolanus was lauded the best of Shakespearean tragedies by literary greats such as T.S. Eliot. Ironically, however, it is the only play where you find more swearing than in any other Shakespearean drama. But we do get the point, don’t we? It is considered the best because of its ordinariness in character study. Coriolanus gets into the habit of addressing the plebeians as “curs” and as people less deserving of Rome’s lofty mannerisms and sentiments of intellectual enlightenment. That of course leads him to so much pride and arrogance and eventually to his downfall.  But the gist in all this as far as character study goes is the way Lady Volumnia influences him into taking up a position in the hierarchy of the Roman senate. He does get to the top but of course there are men such as Brutus and others to reckon with.

And now back to the question of how Shakespeare would fare in a country like ours. Would he step aside as the bard of England? Yes, he did step aside at a much younger age than many of us think. That was when he made just enough to retire to his village at Stratford-upon-Avon. He had land; he had a family to fend for. But in many respects he had been the most fortunate of writers and artists who lived at a time when the monarchy itself became the great lover of literature, the arts and the theatre. Everywhere she went, particularly in the provinces, Queen Elizabeth I had asked for nothing more than a cultural fete or festivity. She would of course be the one responsible for this word ‘royalty” a sort of stipend paid to writers and artists at her bidding and which nowadays assumes so many roles as the “paymaster” of all sorts of trades and set ups here and there – quite, quite removed from the world of belles letters...
But wait, what’s that place I see yonder? Pray, dinghy operator, cut down the throttle; heave thy vessel closer, shoreward. Is that Bogaboga I see? Looks bucolic enough; isolated, idyllically enchanting and far removed from the noise of Port Moresby. Pray, operator, leave me here, on these remote shores, and don’t come back for me. But wait again, what’s that I hear up the beach. Voices. More voices. “Welcome home, storyboard! Where’s our sugar? Where’s the tea? And the rice and tinned fish? And hap spear? Some buatau?”

“Dear oh dear, talk about stepping aside. Let the nakimis and tambu lewas take over the whole global theatre then,” chuckles the bard. Backstage, the bard is heard drinking wine, cackling and cracking jokes with the youth of Stratford (or is it rather the youth of Bogaboga and Tototo?).

                               MERRY CHRISTMAS!