Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto Number 2 and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto Number 4

I went to the finale of the International Piano Competition in July.  Three musicians played these two pieces.  The first and third competitors played Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto Number 2.

Here it is performed by Yuja Wang.


The second competitor performed Beethoven’s Piano Concerto Number 4. Here is performed by Krystian Zimerman (conducted by Leonard Bernstein!).

Listening to these two pieces makes me wish that I knew something about music theory.  I know that Beethoven’s piece sounds nothing like Rachmaninoff’s, but other than saying that one is in major and the other in minor, I cannot say why they sound nothing alike.  I can also tell that Beethoven’s piece has far more in common with Mozart.  But I cannot say why the Beethoven piece reminds me of Mozart.

Is there anyone out there who understands music theory who can explain it to me?


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shakespeare’s Shortcomings

Taming of the Shrew is one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays,” plays that are, on the surface comedies, but have difficulties that rebel against the comedy.  The Merchant of Venice, Measure for Measure, and All’s Well That Ends Well are among his other “problem plays.”  To be honest, I love the problem plays, not just in spite of their difficulties, but because of their difficulties.  I love the fact that the texts rebel against the reader or the audience.  How much more fun!

Some times, the problems stem directly from the text themselves, such as Measure for Measure.  Measure for Measure is about a terrible town leader, Angelo, who sentences a man to death for the crime of fornication and fathering a child out of wedlock.  The convicted man’s sister Isabella, a novice at a nearby convent, goes to Angelo to beg for her brother’s life.  The man decides that he is love with the novice and makes her and offer.  “Do me and I’ll spare your brother, reject me and I’ll torture your brother before I kill him.”

This is a comedy.  (Don’t worry, it ends in marriage.)

Other times, the problem stems from the change in societal attitudes.  No play exemplifies this more than The Merchant of Venice.  The villain of the piece is a Jewish money lender, a common villain at the time.  While Shakespeare gives Shylock his “If you prick us do we not bleed?” speech, Shylock is unquestionably written in the mode of earlier stereotypes about Jews.  Shylock is greedy and not to be trusted.  Shakespeare’s audience probably felt little difficulty with this piece.  In a modern context, this play is especially difficult because we live in the shadow of Auschwitz.  (I saw a version of the Merchant of Venice a few years ago.  The director was Jewish, and he did not shy away from the difficulties.)

Taming of the Shrew is a curious mix of both difficulties, but I want to focus on the second difficulty because I think it highlights a blind spot that Shakespeare possessed.

We often talk about Shakespeare as though he was God.  Shakespeare understood the human condition in its entirety, or, as Harold Bloom seems to argue, Shakespeare created the human condition.  One sign of his genius is Shakespeare understood women far better than any male writer I can name.  While some of Shakespeare’s characters are misogynists, Shakespeare does not treat women contempt or as the suspicious “other.”  Despite that, there is one area that Shakespeare did not understand very well in my mind, and that is the role of violence and power in the interactions between men and women.

The most shocking example of that is in Titus Andronicus, as one of my college friends dubbed it, “young, angry Shakespeare.”  In the play, Tamara’s sons fall in love with Lavinia, Titus’ daughter.  Then Aaron, the villain of the piece, convinces them to rape Lavinia. The boys rape her, cut off her hands, and cut out her tongue to conceal their identities.  Think about that.  Perhaps I am just hopelessly naive, but I can’t imagine many men hearing, “You know that girl you love?  You should rape her, cut off her hands, and cut out her tongue,” and thinking, “Good idea.”

Measure for Measure is another example.  Angelo decides to pressure Isabella to break her vow of chastity and sleep with him, threatening her brother’s life if she does not comply.  In my Acting Shakespeare class in college, I watched two classmates perform this scene.  The teacher emphasized Angelo really does love Isabella, he just doesn’t know how to love.  Poor Angelo, making the classic mistake of threatening his beloved’s family members.  (Ok, as I write that, I remember how totally obsessed I was with the Phantom of the Opera.  But I was twelve, and the Phantom had the excuse of being isolated from all human contact.)  In all seriousness, a modern audience would not watch a man threaten to kill a young woman’s family members to coerce her into sleeping with him and think, “Ahh, young love.”  We would attribute a darker, more sinister motive to the man, one of power and control.  And for my money, we would be right.

We even see this in Othello.  Othello claims that he “loved not wisely, but too well.”  Othello kills his life.  (Oh, spoiler alert.)  A man kills his wife because he loves her too much?  That’s what OJ Simpson said once.  “If I killed her, it would be because I loved her very much.”  How sweet.  Hearing statements like that makes me glad I am single.

In all seriousness, I love Shakespeare.  We should all love Shakespeare.  My friend and I visited the First Folio this year when it came to town.  We jokingly referred to it as “our pilgrimage.”  I joked that we should circle the First Folio seven times, like the Kaaba.


But, Shakespeare is not God.  He is not all knowing; there were things that I don’t think he understood very well, and the darker power dynamics between men and women (and what motivates men to threaten and act violently towards women) is one of them.

This plays a part in The Taming of the Shrew, but only tangentially.  After all, the only physical violence between Katherine and Petruchio is in their first meeting, when Katherine hits Petruchio.  He threatens to retaliate, but never does, as far as we can see onstage.  Still, he goes to great lengths to control her.  As I said before, I like to call them, “enhanced taming techniques.”  He deprives her of sleep and food.  He cuts her off from her family and friends, a classic move used by abusive husbands and boyfriends everywhere.  In Shakespeare’s world, this can only be out of the motive of “perfect love.”

The more my wrong, the more his spite appears:
What, did he marry me to famish me?
Beggars, that come unto my father’s door,
Upon entreaty have a present aims;
If not, elsewhere they meet with charity:
But I, who never knew how to entreat,
Nor never needed that I should entreat,
Am starved for meat, giddy for lack of sleep,
With oath kept waking and with brawling fed:
And that which spites me more than all these wants,
He does it under name of perfect love;
As who should say, if I should sleep or eat,
‘Twere deadly sickness or else present death.
I prithee go and get me some repast;
I care not what, so it be wholesome food.

Act 4, Scene 3
While the play definitely argues that Petruchio loves Katherine, the text of the play rebels against the treatment of poor Katherine at Petruchio’s hands.  Moreover, modern audiences have a decidedly different (better) attitude towards relationships between men and women. Add to this, I am a woman.

Perhaps it is easier for me, as a woman living in the 21st century, to see the darker motives that might drive a man to isolate a woman from her friends and family and proceed to starve her and deprive her from sleep.  It is these darker motives that I feel Shakespeare fails to portray adequately.  This does not detract from the genius of his work, but it is worth remembering Shakespeare’s shortcomings.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Kate’s Speech in Taming of the Shrew: Chaste, Obedient, Loquacious?

At the end of Taming of the Shrew, Katherine gives a speech on the role of wives.  The text of the speech urges women to submit to their husbands.  And yet, as many people have pointed out, the length of the speech works against that exhortation.  Katherine’s speech at the end of Taming of the Shrew is the  longest speech in the play.  Moreover, it is one of the longest speeches in the Shakespeare canon.  I tried to confirm if this is the longest speech ever given to a woman; I could not but it is certainly longer than most other speeches given to women.

The length of the speech actually works against the text of the speech.  If women are supposed to be chaste, silent, and obedient, how obedient can Katherine be if she is so talkative?  Much as Polonius draws a laugh with his line “Brevity is the soul of wit” because he is rambling, Kate’s lengthy speech cannot be submissive by its very nature.  Katherine commands attention.  She does not take the wives aside and lecture them one on one.  She speaks to everyone at the dinner, men and women, commanding their attention.  This is even clearer in a performance.  Katherine commands the attention of the  audience; everyone sits obediently and allows her to lecture him.

There is a tendency, beginning with the 20th century, to interpret the speech in an ironic sense.  While I think the speech should always be played sincerely, I do think that there is a level of irony in the speech.

I have other thoughts about the speech, more next time.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Emma’s Random (Reylo) Thoughts Part 1

Every year or so, I write a post that I believe will be the most controversial post ever on my blog.  This is definitely one of those posts.

1 For those who do not know, a quick background on the word Reylo and the word “ship.”  “Ship” has two additional meetings in popular culture.  According to Urban Dictionary

N: Short for romantic relationship, popularized in fanfiction circles.

V: To endorse a romantic relationship.

N: I see a ‘ship developing between Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley.

V: I ship Ron/Hermione.  

Reylo is a conjunction of the names Kylo Ren and Rey.  Rey is the protagonist in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Kylo Ren is the antagonist.

2 Two other important pieces of information for my reflections are as follows: J.J Abrams directed Star Trek Into Darkness and I despise Star Trek Into Darkness. In fact, it is because J.J. Abrams directed Star Trek Into Darkness that I refused to watch Star Wars : The Force Awakens.  

3 Before I saw The Force Awakens, I saw the Honest Trailer by Screen Junkies.  In the trailer, they had a clip from the film that actually shocked me.  In fact, I had to stop the  video and watch that portion again, because I could not believe what I was seeing.

Here’s a gif of the section.


I watched it again, and sure enough, Rey faints and Kylo Ren scoops her up and carries her back to the ship.  I cannot explain how unexpected and shocking I found it to see this image. After all, being a normal woman in Western society, I am very, very familiar with this image.  This image appears in two contexts specifically.

Here is one context.





For a history of this tradition, here’s a video.


There’s another context in which this image appears consistently.

(Now, I did a search on You Tube for “Monsters Love Carrying Men”, “Monsters Love Carrying Children,” “Monsters Love Carrying Post Menopausal Little Old Ladies,” and “Monsters Love Carrying Lamps.”  I found nothing.)

Now, I hardly need to point out that sexuality is the common denominator in both of these contexts.  In the wedding pictures, it is a romantic sexuality, in the monster images it is a menacing and threatening sexuality.  When I saw this image in the clip, I intuited that the filmmakers were inviting us to read the interactions between Kylo Ren and Rey in a sexual context.  However, since I did not watch the film for another few months, I did not think too much about this startling realization.


4 I finally watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens for the first time last month.  I was relieved that it was not the disastrous movie that I feared it would be (as Star Trek Into Darkness was) though, much as I feared, the film was a basically a remake of A New Hope (and Empire Strikes Back.)  

5 Despite the cowardice and lack of originality displayed in The Force Awakens, the film did have moments of courage and creativity.  Finn, a Storm Trooper who defects from the First Order, is a character without a clear parallel in the Original Trilogy and is a very welcome addition to the film, even though his defection is glossed over.  (More on that later.)  I love the friendship that he forms with Rey.  The two of them should consider doing a romantic comedy together.  Indeed, The Force Awakens is at its best when it creates new characters and allows them to shine.

6 I said that The Force Awakens is at its best when it creates new characters.  At the same time, I did not include Kylo Ren, the antagonist, in that category.  I watched the film several times, and each time I came away with the feeling that Kylo Ren did not completely work.  At times, he seemed like Darth Vader lite, which can a mistake.  Darth Vader is one of the great villains in cinematic history (the very image terrified me as a child) and any reference to him can only inspire the audience to think about how inferior he is to the original.  I had that thought many times in the film, thinking about how much more frightening and evil Darth Vader was in the original movies.

7 More importantly, Kylo Ren did things in the movie that made no sense in the scene when he interrogates Rey.  Please watch the scene before you read the next section.


First of all, when Rey wakes up in the interrogation chair and asks where she is, Kylo Ren replies “You’re my guest.”  Huh?  Why would he say that?  What the hell does that mean?

She asks him where her friends are and he says, “You’ll be relieved to hear I have no idea.”  Why would he say that?!  Why not tell her, “I have them bound up in the next room.  If you don’t give me the map willingly, I will start killing them.”  If the director and the writers are trying to establish Kylo Ren as a frightening villain, that would be far more effective than having him being honest to her, and empathizing with her.

Then he says, “You still want to kill me.”  What the fuck is going on?!  He sounds almost disappointed.  Why does he care whether or not she wants to kill him?  Rey retorts that it’s perfectly natural to want to kill the “creature in the mask” that is hunting you.

And then Kylo Ren does something that completely shocked me.

8 He takes off the mask.

Now, at this point, I don’t want to talk about why Kylo Ren’s decision to take off the mask makes no sense, although it doesn’t make any sense.  At all.  I want to talk about this from the director’s and writer’s point of view.  They made a choice to have him take off the mask at that moment.  A baffling, baffling choice.  Think about it.  Here’s the scene where Kylo Ren kills Han Solo, at the climax of the film.

Now, imagine if Kylo Ren had not taken off his mask with Rey.  The audience would have gone the entire movie without seeing Kylo’s face.  Suddenly, there would be a tremendous mystery about Kylo Ren’s face.  When Kylo Ren says, “What do you think you’ll see if I do?” that line is suddenly not only spoken to Han.  It is spoken to the audience.  The audience would suddenly be thinking, “What will we see when he takes off his mask?  Is he scarred?  Is he hideous?  What are we going to see?!”  As the scene is, there is no mystery.

I tried to search online because I wanted to see why people thought that Kylo might take off the mask.  Instead, most of the fanboys wanted to know what was the significance of the ashes into which Kylo placed his helmet.  (Sigh.)  However, I came across the ship of Reylo, or the people who support a romantic relationship between Kylo Ren (the antagonist) and Rey (the protagonist.)

In Part 2, I’ll describe what they see as the evidence and controversy, and my reaction to it.  I may break this into three parts, but we’ll see.

Let the hate begin !






Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

I like this song.

To paraphrase John Oliver, “My inner ten year old girl is empowered by this song.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Taming of the Shrew Commentary : Quick Hit

I did spend some time reading commentary for Taming of the Shrew.  Harold Bloom has wonderful collections of literary criticism over the centuries.  I am working through the 20th century at this point.  To me, the most surprising pieces were the two men written in the early 17th centuries, practically contemporaries of Shakespeare.  The men referred to Petruchio’s horrible treatment of Katherine in the “enhanced taming” techniques.  Even at the time of Shakespeare, men found the scenes uncomfortable.

I recently began to wonder if Shakespeare wants us to be uncomfortable in these scene; perhaps I am right.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Taming of the Shrew: Induction

The Taming of the Shrew does not begin with the story of Katherine and Petruchio, or even with Katherine and her sister.  Instead, it begins with Christopher Sly, the tinker who passes out drunk and is made to believe he is a lord.  The manor stages The Taming of the Shrew for Christopher Sly, though he disappears after the Induction and never returns.  (The Taming of A Shrew, quite possibly the play Shakespeare used as his model, brings back Sly at the end.)

Why is the Induction in the play?  On the one hand, the Induction certainly highlights the farcical nature of the play.  Many people have pointed out that the Induction does not permit us to take the plot of Taming of the Shrew too seriously.  Taming of the Shrew is not only a play within a play, it is a practical joke.

The other aspect of the Induction that I find fascinating is the idea of a tinker becoming a Lord, even as a joke.  The more I think about this, the more this idea seems to relate to the central conflict between Katherine and Petruchio.

A central philosophical idea of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance was the Great Chain of Being.  The Great Chain of Being classified all of creation, with God, of course, being at the top of the hierarchy as the creator.  The angels came next, followed by humans, animals, plants, and minerals.  Of course, each division had subdivisions and hierarchies.

In the human subdivision, the king was at the top, followed by nobles and commoners.  In a largely agrarian economy, it is perfectly logical that the king, the man with the largest land holdings, would be at the top of the hierarchy.  (Yes, he also had political power of course, but money didn’t hurt him either.)  Since the Great Chain of Being was set by God, the king is naturally superior to the noble, who is superior to the commoner.

In the Induction, the tinker has been promoted beyond his natural role.  It is essential to remember that, according to the Great Chain of Being, a person’s state in life, whether king, noble, or commoner, was assigned by God.  The commoner cannot become a nobleman any more than a bird can become a cat.  And yet, the noblemen try to convince the tinker that he is a lord.

This becomes far more intriguing when we consider the curious time in which Shakespeare lived.  Shakespeare lives at the end of the Renaissance and at the dawning of the age of mercantilism.  At this point in history, wealth is beginning to move out of the hands of the land owners and into the hands of the merchants and business owners, a trend which will only accelerate when the Industrial Revolution dawns a couple of hundred years later.  Added to mercantilism will be colonialism.  The Taming of the Shrew premiered contemporary to the failed British colony of Roanoke.  In less than 20 years time, the British will try again at Jamestown, and that colony will succeed.  It’s worth remembering that one of the purposes of colonies was to dump criminals and other undesirables.  Many of these undesirables will find ways to prosper and accumulate wealth.  Less than 200 years later, a bastard, orphan son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by Providence impoverished in squalor, grows up to be a hero and a scholar.  (Forgive the Hamilton reference.)  :)

Social mobility is becoming possible.

Shakespeare himself witnessed this first hand.  His father, John, was a glove maker who operated a successful business.  John was able to marry the daughter of a wealthy landowner, send his son to an excellent school, and was elected to several local public positions.  William would even purchase a coat of arms for his father.  Would this have even been possible in previous generations?  I am not sure.

With increased social mobility must have come increased anxiety about everyone’s place in the world.  Perhaps this is why Shakespeare tells the story of The Taming of the Shrew, and why he begins it with the induction.  Shakespeare tells the story of a woman who does not observe her proper role in society (to be chaste, silent, and obedient) at the same time when men are becoming less likely to observe their proper roles within society.  Social climbing was not always seen as a virtue, as Hamilton once again shows.🙂

Is it possible that Taming of the Shrew reflects a broader anxiety about societal roles rather than simply the roles of forceful women?  Petruchio, after all, does “come to wife it wealthily in Padua.”  And is Christopher Sly ever restored to his original state?  We all assume that he will return to his life as a tinker, but we do not know this for certain, Shakespeare does not tell us.

Of course, none of this even gets into the fact that, at this point in history, England is being governed very successfully by a woman, but that is a story for another time.



Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment