The Furies are snake-haired, dog-faced and bat-winged. They are full of hyphens. An ugliness that defied their description in the ancient world – they were called Eumenides – bringers of justice – because their bronze-tipped flails were too horrible to contemplate.
They punished the most horrible of crimes – parricide and perjury.
It makes you think.
Killing your parents is right up there with lying.
Those ancient Greeks were fond of making their most fearsome monsters and deities, female. Scylla; the Gorgons: the Fates; the aforementioned Furies. They had a deep, in-built fear of the female.
Hesiod tells us that woman was made as a punishment for all human kind for the gift Prometheus made us of fire. Of course given Zeus; the constructor of said punishment; was himself a prodigious womaniser; one wonders if he was totally truthful in the whole “I'm only making her to punish those naughty mortals” story that he told his ever jealous wife Hera.
Truth is a slippery concept. I don't know if the ancients anthropomorphised Truth in the same way they did almost every other force or idea that impacts on the lives of us mortals – but if they did it would have been the nasty, slimy, long entrail of a particularly lecherous giant. Such, I think, is the nature of truth. It takes a long time to unfold; it slides through your fingers unpleasantly and if you split it open; it stinks.
As last week's post will attest I've just seen one of the great plays written about truth...Ibsen's The Wild Duck. No need to re-visit last week's fangirl slatherings here and no need to further contemplate why I might have been pondering the concerns of said play; suffice to say – its been on my mind.
This morning I read an interiew with a woman in her early 30s, Emma Forrest. She's an author and a journalist – and someone who appears to have made a career out of being a particularly self-conscious self-revealator. She takes the opportunity in the 400 or so word article to tell us first about her bulimia; then about her disastourous attraction to addicts and alcoholics; about her numerous (and I do mean a very, very large number of) failed relationships and her attraction to phyically imperfect men. I was, I suspect, not the only one, finishing my Sunday morning coffee and toast, dusting the crumbs off the sheets and thinking “Emma, love, TMI”.
She's just one of the many, may I venture too many, people making a living out of telling us just a little more than we really want to know about someone we don't.
That great philosopher of our generation; or at least my generation: Agent Mulder, thought the truth was out there. I tend to think right now, its just a little bit too out there.
Ibsen in his idealistic younger years wanted people to have truth in their relationships. He wanted people to know one another fully and intimately so they could be full and equal partners. When he's writing The Wild Duck; he's writing with a very different idea in mind.
Ibsen was fascinated by the maelstrom – the huge whirlpools in the sea off Norway – wild, unforgiving nature. I just saw Derek Jacobi's King Lear – unaccomodated man has never been so witty, so rational and therefore so moving. Let me remind you of the lines:
Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench'd our steeples, drown'd the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Smite flat the thick rotundity o' the world!
Crack nature's moulds, and germens spill at once,
That make ingrateful man!
I thought I had heard them so many times that I could not find them new or fresh or more truthful. Jacobi whispers them, barely audible in the tiny DONMAR theatre, barely audible to the audience at the live screening in Nova cinema. I'm having to lean forward in my seat and almost read his lips.
Its still the piece of poetry that for me sums up that moment of the full recognition of ourselves as tiny, insignificant ingrates in the eyes of the gods. Later Gloucester, in the long tradition in tragedy of the blind who finally see the truth, pronounces that damning indictment on the human condition:
As flies to wanton boys are we to th' gods,
They kill us for their sport.
It is a terrible, brutal play with a terribly brutal ending. I have never wept so much for Cordelia as I wept with Jacobi's Lear and the horror of utter defeat.
Truth; the truth of our own mortality; our humble position in the turning of the orbs is confronting and it is painful. Ibsen isn't dealing with the same grand themes that Shakespeare throws about the stage in King Lear. Ibsen's tragedies are the falls of small people; people like you and me. When I watch Hjalmer in his homespun cardy or Hedvig in her school uniform; I'm no less moved than when Lear staggers on-stage crushed; yes, crushed; by the weight of his daughter's death.