December 26th, 2006


Happy Royal Families

There aren't any--in English literature, anyway.  Consider the Lears:  We don't know how he got along with Mrs. Lear, but given the way his  daughters turned out, I'm guessing family dinners were trying at best.  Cordelia is definately the best of a bad lot, but you can't call her affectionate.  And the Macbeths:  Just as well Lady M. lost her child, really, given her mental instability.  And then there's Tamburlaine (to venture out of Shakespeare for a moment) and Henry (of any number, by almost any playwright) and Richard (ditto), not to mention Robert Graves's I, Claudius Romans.

Still, I gotta say that they all look like crowned versions of The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew next to the imperial families of pre-modern China.

We spent yesterday afternoon at the movies (The Curse of the Golden Petal) watching everybody kill everybody else a lot.  It starts with the Emperor slowly poisoning his clever wife (who is a deal too clever for his taste), and moves on to her conspiring to dethrone him in favor of the oldest son (who may or may not be her son, too--it's very unclear), over the head of the second son (who is definitely not her son--she's sleeping with him), who is Crown Prince, who is killed, eventually, by the third son, who definitely is hers, but who doesn't seem to like her (or anyone else) very much.  Their little family squabbles result in the deaths of everybody with a speaking role, plus uncounted thousands of non-speaking CGI-generated Chinese soldiers and several dozen black-robed assassins.

No member of this royal dysfunctional family covers him/herself with glory.  They all are cruel, vengeful, violent, and champion sulkers and grudge-holders.  Yet none of them is a cartoon monster, either, including the Emperor.  The rhetoric allows them to be complex human beings--with outsize emotions and far too much power, certainly, but far from the one-note "villains" and "heroes" that populate Western (ok, American) epics.

And they have far more colorful clothes, not to mention long, flowing hair and really cool furnishings.