04 December 2008

Paradise Lost last night

picture by AHMED...
Yes, the performance was in a church, yes, a real live vicar introduced it enthusiastically  [ "I just know this is going to be excellent. Unfortunately I can't stay to hear it myself. Bye"  Why do people do that?]

Yes, the subject matter is theological, and yes God, Satan, Adam and Eve all have speaking parts and yes it was written by a devout man - but still, but still. . .I reckon Paradise Lost is a deeply irreligious work.

And that's probably why I like it so much.

Perhaps, like any great work, there are so many threads, so many levels in Paradise Lost that every reader can find in it the narrative they want, and no doubt the other members of the audience in St Giles in the Field last night (the retired and aged, the rapper off the street for the free wine, the young earnest muslim, and the half-dozen assorted A-Level Students) no doubt they all heard, through the prisms of their conventions, something else entirely; but for me Milton is a subversive: Milton believes in a god, of course, but he believes in a god that no one could possibly worship:  A god that is cruel and humourless. A god that is sentimental and yet pitiless. A god of entrapment and condescension. I can't believe that Milton worshipped this god.

Whatever: he certainly didn't manage to justify His ways to this man.

The vastly likeable and entertaining, but slightly cheesy, Lance Pierson performed Book IX, in an assured and compelling piece of theatre, and it was excellent, but dispiriting:  a young married couple, idealistic and naive, commit a foolish deed in the pursuit of an illusory goal, and the roof simply falls in on their world, destroying the contentment they had.

But they were suckered, taken for a ride, and manipulated; as defenceless as the poor snake that Satan enslaves and are as badly treated. They have been advanced a loan they can't possibly pay back and suddenly it's the mother of all credit crunches.

It all ends in tears and, worse, mutual recriminations, Eve and Adam momentarily forgetting that they are on the same side.

It was an abridged version - of course it was - and naturally some of my favourite passages, it turned out, were not Lance Pierson's favourite passages and they were omitted. So in case any of the other forty people present are blog-searching for reviews tomorrow morning  (yeah, right) - here's two they missed:

Satan's state of mind as he approaches Eden.
                                          the more I see
Pleasures about me, so much more I feel
Torment within me, as from the hateful siege
Of contraries; all good to me becomes
Bane, and in Heaven much worse would be my state.
But neither here seek I, no nor in Heaven
To dwell, unless by mastering Heavens Supreme;
Nor hope to be my self less miserable
By what I seek, but others to make such
As I, though thereby worse to me redound:
For only in destroying I find ease
To my relentless thoughts
hasn't everyone felt like that. Doesn't everybody hurt, sometimes?

And here's Eve's defiance in the face of danger.
If this be our condition, thus to dwell
In narrow circuit straitened by a Foe,
Subtle or violent, we not endued
Single with like defence, wherever met,
How are we happy, still in fear of harm?

And so out she goes to face down whatever is out there. Doesn't everyone wish they were brave enough to feel like that?

Lance Pierson ended as Milton ended, and if it's good enough for them, it's good enough for me. Here's Adam and Eve as they leave paradise (It's kind of like being made redundant but being sent to a good outplacement consultant)
Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;
The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They hand in hand with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.


Burgin Streetman said...

Though I haven't read that book since 11th grade, back in NYC I always looked forward to the all-night reading at St. John the Divine... that and the Feast of St. Francis when the cathedral filled with animals. Good show.

It is sad that so few artists have the same passion for religion (or otherwise) to think so deeply and write so truly. Academically speaking there is a real hole in the current state of art. Like when when the hub and I saw Descent of Christ from the Cross by van der weyden at the Prado. Though I am not a deeply religious person, what a humbling sight. No tears spoke loud enough.

Anonymous said...

you have me humming REM

Botogol said...

@scribbler - you were lucky to read PL at school, but I bet id didn't feel lucky at the time

@ILTV - that's me in the corner.

outside-jane said...

and is it right that Satan is so damn sexy?! Yes, definitely irreligious. Love it!