Rest In Peace Robin Williams

robinwilliamsVery few people, whether four or forty or eighty, have not seen a Robin Williams film. His renowned sense of humor, deep emotional edge, and contagious sense of fun have entertained audiences for decades. And so there are very few, if any, people who will not mourn the passing of this acting legend.

Robin Williams was found dead yesterday, a supposed suicide after battling depression and drub rehabilitation. Once the liveliest man in Hollywood, he has now gone the way of too many stars, plagued by physical and emotional demons to the point where he saw no way out but one. It is a sad tale, as tragic for Williams as it was for River Phoenix, Heath Ledger, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. But, as Williams’ wife Susan Schneider said in a statement, “I am utterly heartbroken. On behalf of Robin’s family, we are asking for privacy during our time of profound grief. As he is remembered, it is our hope the focus will not be on Robin’s death, but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.” So, in memory of the buoyant, whimsical and cherished actor and comedian, here are some of my favorite Robin Williams films:

  1. Dead Poets Society

Cliché, I know, but it’s such a wonderful movie, and Robin Williams is entertaining and moving as an English teacher at an elite all-boys prep school, trying to inspire a love of poetry and life in the future lawyers, doctors, and politicians of America.

  1. Aladdin

I don’t mean to trivialize Williams’ career by listing a Disney movie. Rather, this movie, particular the character of the genie, was a canvas that the producers allowed William’s to paint at will. And so he did, as one of the funniest characters in all of Disney history.

  1. Patch Adams

Williams once again shows his incomparable ability to balance the levity of humor and the gravitas of deep emotion in the role of an aspiring doctor.

  1. Good Will Hunting

I’d never hear the end of it from people if I didn’t list this movie. This, like Dead Poets Society, is everyone’s favorite movie, but for a reason. It’s spectacular, with Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Minnie Driver, but no one can overlook Robin Williams’ role as a teacher/mentor who takes crap for no one.

  1. Hook

I’d never hear the end of it from Emily if I didn’t list this movie, but it is another great one. It’s the story of Peter Pan returning to Neverland, only now he is an adult and he has no memory of his past life as the boy who wouldn’t grow old.

Hollywood and the world at large will miss Robin Williams. He was a man of many talents, and his films will always be a true treasure for audiences now and forever.

 

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Men in Classical Literature

It’s time to touch on one of my favorite topics out of all conversational topics: how all men in classical literature are rat bastards. You heard right. Every last one of them.

Don’t generalize, Clare! That’s stereotyping. It’s bad. They can’t all be that terrible. Right? Wrong. And here’s why.

Sean Bean as Odysseus in the movie Troy.

Sean Bean as Odysseus in the movie Troy.

Odysseus. You know, from The Odyssey? You do know, because every sucker had to read this thing in high school. Odysseus. Leaves his home in Ithaca to fight in the Trojan War. Sin #1: rallies the Greek army against Agamemnon so the poor guy has to kill his own daughter. After putting on a show to avoid going to war in the first place. Sin #2: Devises the Trojan horse. I know, all’s fair in love and war, but who honestly roots for the Greeks? Everyone is pulling for the Trojans even though they lose. Sin #3: Sleeps with everything he meets on his way back to Ithaca. Sin #4: Has the gall to disguise himself once he arrives home to make sure his wife was faithful. Double standards are never a good thing, you cad.

Aeneas. Of The Aeneid. Okay, so he’s not Greek. He’s Trojan, and he’s going to found what will become the Roman Empire. Sounds like a rad guy, right? Wrong again.

Aeneas fleeing Troy by Pompeo Batoni.

Aeneas fleeing Troy by Pompeo Batoni.

Sin #1: Carries his father on his back while holding his son’s hand to escape from Troy but loses his wife. And by ‘lose’ I don’t mean she dies. I mean, she does die because her ghost appears to him later, but he literally loses her. As in, OMG where did my wife go? Sure, Aeneas, save the men, you sexist pig. Sin #2: Sleeps with Dido, the queen of Carthage, after tricking her with a fake marriage, which Venus, Aeneas’ mother, helps arrange. This is why Aeneas’ wife’s ghost appears to him, to give him permission to have sex after he lost her. I mean, that’s just sick. Sin #3: Abandons Dido by proverbially sneaking out the window, which leads her to commit suicide. Sin #4: After losing his wife, tricking Dido into bed and then ditching her, Aeneas arrives in Italy and steals another guy’s fiancé. And then he kills the poor guy whose girl he stole.

Jason and Medea by John William Waterhouse.

Jason and Medea by John William Waterhouse.

Jason. Of the Argonauts. Sin #1: Also sleeps with everything he meets on his journey. Sin #2: Also has Aphrodite enchant a woman to be in love with him. Sin #3: After marrying said woman—Medea—he decides to take another wife. Even though Medea is the only reason he was able to complete his three tasks to acquire the golden fleece. After Medea killed her brother so that they could escape. After promising Medea that he would love only her forever. Sin #4: When Jason tells her about his engagement and she reminds him everything she did for him, he tells her she’s not the one he should be grateful to, but rather Aphrodite who made her fall in love with him. No wonder he dies alone.

To avoid spending all day ranting about every male character in classical literature, I’ll stop there, but you get my point. Men suck, at least they did 3,000 years ago. Except I’m not actually as feminist as I sound in this rant. Men in classical literature can be very interesting and very complex, like Achilles or Agamemnon. And they can be heroic and good, like Orpheus and Hector. Okay, so I did generalize a bit. There are great men in classical literature. But there are also a lot of rat bastards. But I suppose the same is true of men in literature from any time period. And in real life. Ah well. C’est la vie.

Pathos and Patricide

I love Shakespeare just as much as the next person, and I’ve read Tennessee Williams. I enjoy reading plays for many reasons—there’s plenty of drama, they take only about an hour and a half to read (unless it’s King Lear), there’s lots of fun characters. But while I take great pleasure in reading “modern” plays—such as Much Ado About Nothing and As You Like It—my heart ultimately belongs to classical literature. Greek and Roman, that’s where it’s at, and mostly Greek, if you’re talking about plays.

The three most famous Greek playwrights are Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides. These three men wrote mostly tragedies that often occurred as trilogies. Back in Greece many, many years ago, these plays were performed at festivals, the best play winning a prestigious award. These plays featured stories from mythology and Greece’s history (or supposed history, but really mythology as well). Not all of the plays survived, but if you’re interested in trying some Greek tragedies, I recommend the collections translated by Richmond Lattimore and David Grene. And if you don’t know where to start, here are three of my favorite Greek tragedies (in no particular order):

  1. Cassandra in a production of The Trojan Women at the University of Texas at Austin

    Cassandra in a production of The Trojan Women at the University of Texas at Austin

    The Trojan Women by Euripides

This play takes place at the end of the Trojan War, after the Greeks have won. It centers around the Trojan women who have been taken captive after the city fell, including Hecuba, Andromache, Polyxena, Cassandra, and a chorus of other women. While there is no climatic action in this play, but there is plenty of drama and pathos. The audience learns the fate of each of these captive women; some to be slaves of the Greek leaders and others to die. Hecuba, the queen of Troy, is the primary character, weeping and bemoaning her suffering in many excellently written lines.

  1. Iphigenia in Aulis by Euripides
Tatiana Papamoschou as Iphigenia in a Greek film adaptation of the play.

Tatiana Papamoschou as Iphigenia in a Greek film adaptation of the play.

This play takes place at the beginning of the Trojan War, before the Greeks have set sail for Troy. The army is grounded at Aulis as the goddess Artemis holds back the winds after Agamemnon killed a deer in her sacred grove. In order to sail to Troy, Agamemnon must sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia to the goddess. He sends for her under the pretense that she is to marry Achilles, Greece’s best warrior. Iphigenia arrives with her mother Clytemnestra, only to discover her father’s real plans for her.

This play, like The Trojan Women, is also loaded with pathos. Agamemnon wavers between his love for his daughter and his inability to protect her from the insidious plans of the Greek army, led by Odysseus. Clytemnestra and Iphigenia both eloquently plead with Agamemnon, but there is nothing he can do, and in the end Iphigenia goes nobly to her death. This play highlights the inner turmoil and conflicts in Agamemnon, but it also represents the turning point for Clytemnestra’s character as she changes from a dutiful wife to a devious murderer.

  1. Medea by Euripides
Maris Callas as Medea in an opera production.

Maris Callas as Medea in an opera production.

This play has nothing to do with the Trojan War. Rather, it is about Medea, the wife of Jason (of the Argonauts) after he found the Golden Fleece, which he only obtained with Medea’s help. Jason and Medea are married with children, but Medea learns that Jason is planning to take a new bride, and she goes to drastic measure to seek revenge.

You’ll notice several trends in all of my choices: drama/pathos, complex characters, strong yet slightly sadistic women, character-driven plots. These are elements that I think make Greek tragedies great plays. It certainly keeps them from being boring.

If you’re looking for action, you’ll have to read Homer’s Iliad, where scores of people die on each page (though there is plenty of killing in the plays). But if you’re someone who likes complex characters with intense inner struggles, then the Greek tragedies are for you. I really like Lattimore and Grene’s translations. The lines capture the essence of the Greek while maintaining its flow and poeticism. And if you ever have a chance to see a live production of one of these plays, do it. It is a totally different experience than watching Shakespeare or Tennessee Williams.