Dec 27, 2008

This is Vanessa Redgrave at her most beautiful. Here and in Morgan she has that youthful beauty and radiance that faded so quickly. Redgrave as Guinevere embodies a young sensuality that is revealed in her introductory song, The Simple Joys of Maidenhood. Here she reveals the character flaw that will lead to her tragic finale. The song contains a romantic idealization of love in which knights will fight over her affections. This comes true as Arthur and Lancelot are drawn into conflict over the love that each of them bears to the other and to Guinevere. Lancelot’s tragic flaw is also revealed in his introductory song, C’est moi. Here it is pride. Pride in his own purity and valour. It is an unfortunate fact that the universe is so constructed that boasting of one’s abilities, or good fortune usually leads to a reversal. So it is with Lancelot, who has his purity tested by his desire and love for his friend’s wife.

Arthur, in a scene that really summarizes the main thrust of the play and the movie, makes an interesting assertion to Mrodred. He equates happiness with virtue. This is almost straight out of the Nicomachean Ethics. Despite what one of my sons says about such books being irrelevant because they are from the Dark Ages, here we have something that points to the political and economic dilemmas of our day. What is happiness, and what does the pursuit of it entail? To Jefferson, and the other founders, it was the pursuit of virtue. In the Will Smith film The Pursuit of Happyness, it is to some extent material success. (Not wholly, the materialism is mitigated by his devotion to his son, and his commitment to the church that helps him.) To many others it seems to be the pursuit of pleasure. But as both Aristotle and Camelot know, pleasure is not identical to virtue. In fact as many myths, ancient and modern, show it is often antithetical to virtue.