Today’s column comes at you from the Dept. of Larnin’, where you too can pretend to do your literature homework while really secretly (SHHHH) writing a column (DON’T TELL ANYBODY).
If, like me, you ever found yourself in the bowels of academia, you no doubt encountered the great ancient philosophy-guy Aristotle, who went by only one name the way at least one contestant always does on American Idol, and who had things to say about philosophy to boot. For example, he said (we understand this was with a straight face) that, in any dramatic story, plot is more important than characters. Clearly, “Aristotle” had never read Shakespeare’s Cymbeline. This was on account of either pig-ignorance or its having been written nearly 2,000 years after his death, but either way, the Dept. of Larnin’ calls it a poor excuse.
Cymbeline, you see, is a play in which the “plot” consists, at one beautiful point – keep in mind the Dept. of Larnin’ exaggerates nothing here – of Jupiter suddenly descending in the middle of a scene, like when the characters are doing the dishes or something, and offering to fix all their problems, to which the characters say (understandably), “Thanks, Jupiter.” In perfect unison. Naturally Shakespeare doesn’t give a stage direction, but I like to think they say it in the exact manner of Suzanne Somers thanking the Thigh-Master (in fact, scholars agree this was Shakespeare’s inspiration for the scene).
And yet, here’s the thing: this is an awesome play. Never mind these little plot kinks; this is the same play in which a girl wakes up from a drugged sleep in a cave, next to a headless body she thinks is her lover’s, and she manages to keep her wits about her enough to say the coolest monologue on earth, which, if I recall correctly, goes something like this:
Yes, sir, to Milford Haven. Which is the way?
(Something) (something) GAH!!!! HOLY CRAP!!!!! A HEADLESS BODY!!!!!!!!
(Something) (something) (something about flowers, I think)
So when’s this mortal coil gonna give us some PAUSE already, huh?
OK, so I don’t remember it exactly, but in my defense, it’s been years. I did once have a rich knowledge of this piece, though; I even, on one occasion, performed it at a conservatory audition in the city, with my green L.L. Bean parka playing the part of the corpse. Sadly, I did not receive an offer of admission, but my coat got in on a full scholarship. (Rim shot.)
Anyway, for next week’s exam, I’ll need to remember the definitions for five terms, all courtesy of our friend Aristotle. In French, these are the exposition, the noeud, the péripétie, the catastrophe, and the dénouement. Let us proceed directly to our roundup of the highly suspicious:
- One of these is called the “noeud.”
- Which, yes, translates into English as “node.”
- But we really know it secretly means “nood.”
- Aristotle was born in “384” and died in “322.” Who else smells a rat? Show of hands.
So this “nood” is defined as “the central moment of intrigue,” or the part of the play between presentation and resolution of conflict. But hands up all who believe THAT. It’s a NOOD.
Meanwhile the exposition is defined as follows (hastily translated): “The first part of the theatrical action … indicating to the spectator the elements which will be necessary for him to understand the action: place, time, reasons for the presence of the characters, relations which exist between them, recent events, and indications of the crisis to come.”
If you want to see these Writer's Tools put to use, look no further than the following little-known example of Aristotle’s own dramatic work. He never made it as a playwright, but as we can see, he had dreams:
Act I, Scene I. A Laundromat.
GLEN: It’s 3:30 here in Florida (“The Sunshine State”).
MINDY: Thank God we’re here, at the Laundromat, for to do our laundry.
GLEN: Why, yes, Mindy, that is the reason for our presence. Not to mention the recent event of casual sex, which also counts as a relation that exists between us.
MINDY: By the way, a crisis is coming.
(They are hit in the heads by a flying nood)
It goes without saying this is miles better than Cymbeline, the Jupiter scene of which – if Shakespeare had cared a whit for his work – would have gone like this:
JUPITER: … and I’ll fix all your problems. ‘Kay?
EVERYONE: Thanks, Jupiter.
(They are hit in the heads by a flying nood)
Frankly, I see no reason why this handy dramatic device should not be adopted for all pieces of theatre, and fast, please. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it would save the sorry asses of a great many current Magical Broadway Productions. Just imagine the countless souls saved from, for example, Phantom of the Opera. (Yes, as you may already have observed, the sorry-assness of a Magical Broadway Production correlates directly with record-shattering ticket sales, which means, basically, that the Snark should shut her face.)
But that is not why this column exists. This column exists so that we can tell you our dreams, our hopes, our frustrations and our triumphs, and not the least of all, so we can get a good grade on our exam next week, because now we remember how to define exposition and noeud. So, really fast, the other three: péripétie is a reversal which complicates the events of the action; catastrophe is either an ending, or just a catastrophic event within the story; and the dénouement is where all the tensions are quelled by the final moment in the piece, in which (the Snark is hit in the head by a flying nood).
©2010 Nicola McEldowney