A monologue is a speech made by one person. There are entire plays written as one person speaking to the audience and to no other character on stage. The first plays in the history of Western drama according to literary “experts” were monologues written by the very ancient Greek playwright Thespis from whose name the pretentiously highfalutin’ word Thespian for actor is derived.
In literature setting is not just a piece of the world where actions occur. To a writer setting such as place and costume are chosen for their meaning, a way of highlighting plot or theme to enhance audience understanding. In ancient times setting was sparse. All significance to a play was expressed in words. The only extra textual enhancement was the actor’s mask behind which characters would hide their real persona and project their lines through its megaphone like mouth across outdoor space from the stage to the audience. Again words expressed meaning; all other possible sources of meaning were covered or excluded. In Elizabethan England costume but not other aspects of setting were used often to depict a character’s emotional state. Physical setting was depicted by actors’ words in imagery that specifically enhanced plot and theme. By the 19’th century setting itself grew in importance to the point that directors were forced to choose setting mostly to depict reality, and not to convey meaning or theme. Moral conflicts became obscured: the naked human spirit portrayed by Euripides, Sophocles or Shakespeare began to dwindle in importance.As directors of plays and movies through the 20’th century gave increasing emphasis to setting especially in updated Shakespearean productions to make them seem more real,they unwittingly added implied contemporary political content in place of the moral content that Shakespeare had intended to illuminate from the history of human experience.
Reading About Human Nature
Variety has come to replace the term excellence in most media marketing with passion following closely after. But with this growing unavoidable media advertising and multiplicity of consumer product promotion, what hardly exists are real people; even television drama has begun meshing with advertising so that I often cannot readily discern when a commercially characterized performance ends and the non commercially pitched characterizations resume.
And perhaps this disappearing recognizable, unique concreteness of human nature may be the basis of my favouring certain kinds of writers, the ones who inspire a sympathy for people. It is interesting to read the criticism of T.S. Eliot written in the early 20’th century that often encourages writing as people actually speak as though many writers become so overwhelmed by the technical formalities of style and grammar and now insincere advertising cliché that their characterizations arise through a kind of artificial verbiage that evokes little audience sympathy.
Consequently I have decided that my favourite writers contrary to many I once believed I should learn from and appreciate are those who tell all: those who write mundane factual details unencumbered by visible preoccupation with moral or scientific abstractions, as in the words of an old media detective” just the facts…”.
Shakespeare, a writer whose name most recognize whether they appreciate his plays, or not , displays an extraordinary sense of the pulse of human speaking, difficult to read sometimes because of the way recorded fact filled details of speech is difficult to comprehend and say, rather than because his English vocabulary may escape understanding. And again, lest I forget, his characters are not made just of mundane words, and facts but are expressed in rhythms arising from the pulse of human expression without which speaking is meaningless. This rhythm of human speaking may be identified by the term, tone, and without such tone, such connecting rhythm of words, comprehension is impossible.
Eliot says that Shakespeare learned a wealth of ancient history from his reading of Plutarch: he also learned much about the mentality and character of leading historical figures of mediaeval and early renaissance European society. And again because he could imagine how they spoke, not just the words they might use, but the pulse they voiced in stringing their words together.
Historical writing too has writers who’ve joined my pantheon of writers who I now value on the basis of their ability to evoke a sense of humanity. And here I recently had to overcome a kind of educational bias that favoured contemporary categorizing of past eras in favour of anecdotal rumour based recording of what people did or were thought to have done, a kind of facticity that too often turns out to have been missed or ignored because it does not fit into a certain theory or accepted point of view.
Here I must mention the names of Tacitus and Suetonius writers who I all but ignored for many years because I thought that contemporary writers making abstract comparisons summarizing events millennia into the past were more advanced and knew more than ancient historians. Neither Tacitus, nor Suetonius who wrote history about 2000 years ago. knew our abstract history classifications. They seemed only aware of what certain people did, how they might have thought, and how rumour and gossip described them, not simply how they might fit into economic or social classifications for statistical study. They tell about human behaviour in the early years of the Roman Empire: the aftermath of the Roman revolution, and relate how the first emperors of the world sometimes fell helplessly into world leadership at times fearfully and without understanding: Suetonius relates how 50-year-old Claudius feared that his being dragged out of hiding behind a curtain to be acclaimed emperor might lead to his being executed as was emperor Vitellius several emperors later who protested while being pulled to his death from behind his janitor’s door that he had never asked to be emperor. And everyone knows of the rather youthful, purported anti Christian Nero. But it is Tacitus who bothers to tell us that before his suicidal death Nero regretted that he would be denying the world a great artist.
These anecdotes though pathetic bits of fact-like human feeling and action are needed for comprehending the worth of the Roman Empire, and its decline, and for overcoming the tedium of reading simply for the sake of absorbing, and promoting abstract historical concepts. Here in addition to Shakespeare, the playwright, and the ancient historians whose characters act and think like human beings we should include novelists: James Joyce who wrote Ulysses in which words and their sometimes chaotic rhythms reverberate with the sound of living Dubliners speaking their mind. And in rather plain prose Jane Austin’s novels encourage readers to want to read more about the characters whose entanglements her works explore; despite their preoccupation with inheritance and social position in early 19’th century England. For their anxieties are those of concrete human beings regardless of the setting they may find themselves in. Also compelling reading is the poetry of Dante Alighieri. especially the Purgatorio. For though his work is full of images and settings beyond normal sensation, even in translation his characters respond to each other with a human sympathy that makes the illusions they inhabit real.