Friday, 2 March 2018

The Fairground Booth: Mirrors, Neoplatonism and Shakespeare's The Tempest

Plotinus and the Eclectic School - a detail from Raphael’s “School of Athens” featuring Plotinus.
There are three strands I have been working on as I edit and put together the film The Fairground Booth and The Fairground Booth project in general which will also include a book: mirrors, Neoplatonism and Shakespeare's The Tempest. There are many other themes but for now these themes are in the forefront of the project. At the moment I am reading The Enneads by Plotinus translated by Stephen Mackenna as background to the film. There is a section about the dreamlike quality of reality and even of  the material, corporeal world itself, to the effect that the material world has no existence. This image however extreme is reflected in The Tempest which could be read as a neo-platonic tract in the tradition of Plotinus when Shakespeare claims, through Prospero, "we are such things as dreams are made on and our little life is rounded with sleep".  In Plotinus section of the Enneads, The Impassivity of the Disembodied is written in the context of mirrors, masks and theatrical roles which is most apt to our task and touches on the theme of reality and illusion in The Fairground Booth

Prospero's metaphor applies not just to the pageant he's created , but also to the play Shakespeare presents in the Globe Theatre—the "great globe itself." Dramatic illusion in its turn becomes a metaphor for the "real" world outside the globe, which is equally fleeting. Towers, palaces, temples, the Globe theatre, the Earth—all will crumble and dissolve, leaving nothing behind. Prospero's play within a play (The Tempest) within a another play which is the "real" world.
"The stuff of dreams" seems  only to superficially resembles Prospero's purpose. "The stuff of dreams"  refers to the materials that go into creating an illusion and the materials themselves are it seems also an illusion.

The whole concept of The Tempest is a subversion of reality, a descent into a dream like state which poses as reality and is indistinguishable from our "waking life". It is a question that Descartes, the instigator of modern thought, posed by asking how do I know that  all that I know and see and think is not merely a dream. The Tempest also explores this theme. Blok  in The Fairground Booth also explores this theme in the context of theatre of his own time, drawing attention to the deficiencies of the perceptions of reality as expressed through theatre and the need for a new theatre with new forms to reflect a new reality or changes in our perception of reality brought about by a crises in culture and science. Each epoch has to do this. The dream allows for a re evaluation or new appraisal of reality through a perusal of the relationship between illusion and reality. Poetry, art and in our case theatre are ways of addressing these questions.

It is worth mentioning that a key element in the idea of reality, certainly cultural reality, is the notion of authorship especially in art and literature. The authors are the guarantors as it were of what is and in some cases of what should be, they stand between us the readers or audience and what the world should be. But even this backstop is undermined deliberately in The Fairground Booth. Blok is attempting to redefine the theatrical reality and "authors" can conspire to reinforce the accepted assumptions rather than challenging them. Blok exposes the author's shortcomings in The Fairground Booth by re-positioning authorship of the play onto the commedia dell'arte characters and their capacity for improvisation without an authors "approval". By concentrating on the Commedia Dell'Arte our attention is drawn  away from the identity of the author and we are liberated from what people like Meyerhold, Blok's collaborator on The Fairground Booth, certainly believed at that time as the "tyranny" of the word in theatre
In the context of the Fairground Booth project the traces of Neoplatonism in Shakespeare's Tempest could confirm the influence of The Tempest on The Fairground Booth itself. I am working on this assumption in order to explain some of the themes of the play. 

The Fairground Booth: Mirrors, Neoplatonism and Shakespeare's The Tempest

Plotinus and the Eclectic School -  a detail from Raphael’s “School of Athens” featuring Plotinus. There are three strands I have been...