November 4: Greetings from the Golden Age

Golden Age Beer -- For refreshment that complies with the dramatic unities.


The Golden Age is now.

At least it is for us upper-middlebrows with Internet connections. Classical music pours out of Pandora like nothing on earth. The WFMU blog brings us footage of Jack Benny interviewing Issac Hayes. A college professor who talks to journalists about Niebuhr and who's willing to be photographed wearing a bike helmet could be President of the United States. And the Harvard Classics are all on line -- and, what's more, there's Wikipedia and Google (see also: "Google, The") to ameliorate the frequent incomprehensibilities of the Harvard Classics.

Take today, Corneille's Polyeucte. At first glance, it just seems like a boring nonsensical old 17th century drama translated into sub-Richard Wilbur doggerel. But, thanks to Wikipedia, you can take the "nonsensical" right out of it. Then it becomes intriguing -- not to read, god knows, but to think about, for this appears to be a drama where everyone is so damn noble.

In our scene we meet Severus (this is set in Roman times), who's in love with Pauline (it's not set too strongly in Roman times), who has been promised to another:
Duty—her father—Fate—these willed, she but obeyed;
Not hers the woe, the strife that envious Ate made!
Untimely, Fortune’s shower must drown me, not revive;
Too lavish and too late her fatal gifts arrive.
...Peace! Peace! She comes!

FABIAN. To thine own self be true!

SEV. Nay! True to her! Shall I her life undo?
She loves the Armenian!
"She loves the Armenian" doesn't quite make it in the lists of the All-Time Tragic Lines of Love, I'm afraid. Then Pauline comes and says, more or less, it cannot be -- Duty has promised her to another, Polyeucte. So then we're expecting Polyecute to whisk her away, right? But no, he wishes her well: "May Heaven shower bliss and peace on Polyeucte and thee!" Then Polyeucte arrives and Pauline tells him about what just happened, completely torpedoing the possibility of skulking around. And Polyeucte says it's OK! For -- and this is the part I needed Wikipedia's help with -- he's about to become a Christian martyr and saint, after which, apparently, he will match up Pauline and Severus.

I was fascinated, thinking about whether we could actually bear to see a drama in which everyone's the good guy. But then I realized that it's sort of like Casablanca from Ingrid Bergman's husband's point of view, but with less Epstein brothers wisecracks and more declamations. And it would probably be a lot more boring, because who can even remember Ingrid Bergman's husband's character's name? I can't even remember who played him -- Bill Pullman, probably. And yet I could look it up on IMDB -- because, as I said, this truly is a golden age for a pedant.

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