Well, the Burke and Hare noh drama is probably going to happen over break while I’m having fun sitting in airports, or perhaps just sometime not this week (exams!). I wound up writing on a more serious topic, instead, which will be linked in the next post. (For those of you whose facebook/email I don’t have, it might be tricky with the password, but I’m sure we can work something out. Just ask.) Despite my departure from the style of traditional English noh parodies, I assure you that the play is indeed a satire. In fact, just turning this in to my professor probably made Zeami roll over in his grave.

At any rate, to show my professor that I did indeed take the topic and the tradition with serious academic interest, I attached a suggested reading list to the manuscript, so here it is:

Shortlist of non-Japanese influencing works, authors, and concepts for The Olive Tree:

  • The opening quote comes from the sonnet “The World Is Too Much With Us” by William Wordsworth
  • T.S. Eliot. “The Wasteland”
  • Rachid Taha. Barra Barra (song in Arabic. I would recommend listening to it without the translation first)
  • Alexandre Dumas. Refer to Javert’s and Jean Valjean’s parallel soliloquies and the court scene in Les Miserables
  • The Greek legend of Orion
  • Wole Soyinka. Especially refer to the conversation between Elesin and Simon Pickings about the nature of peace in Death and the King’s Horseman.
  • Classical Mayan civilization and religion: refer to the Calakmul title of ix witz (white demon lord), the concept of the uay (spirit guide or companion), and the structure of the axis mundi. Familiarity with the fall of El Mirador, the conflict between Calakmul and Tikal, and the collapse of classical civilization in the Yucatan Peninsula are also recommended.
  • Terry Pratchett. Night Watch, Jingo, Nation
  • Italo Calvino. Invisible Cities
  • Einstein’s theory of relativity (it might help to begin with Alan Lightman’s Einstein’s Dreams. However, Italo Calvino is the original and pretty much covers it all.)
  • Philip Pullman. Refer to the nature of Dust, the abyss, and the star bridge created in The Golden Compass. Familiarity with John Milton’s Paradise Lost is also suggested.
  • The Exeter Book – “The Seafarer,” “The Wanderer”
  • Antoine de Saint Exupery. Le Petit Prince
  • Sir Michael Tippett. A Child Of Our Time (oratorio)
  • Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan
  • John Locke. An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding
  • Samuel Becket. “Waiting For Godot”
  • Tom Stoppard. “Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead”
  • Judy Collins. Sons

The significance of the olive tree replacing the pine extends beyond the indicated symbolism of peace, and is based in poetry, scientific principle, and religious connotation. Here are the most important points to keep in mind while reading or watching this play:

  • Olive trees are extremely hardy, resisting not only floods and drought, but fire. They can, in fact, be burned to the ground multiple times only to regenerate from the underlying root system.
  • The trees can live and continue to produce fruit for multiple millennia. The oldest extant trees are now over 3000 years old and still bear olives.
  • The trees tend to prefer coastal sites, growing inland only where winters are mild.
  • Olive leaves were used to crown the victors of war as a symbol of victory and prosperity.
  • Athena, goddess of both war and wisdom, gifted the olive tree of Athens in order to win patronage of the city.
  • The Qur’an 24:35 compares the light of Allah’s guidance to that of an eternal olive oil lamp (and a star)
  • The Old Testament, Genesis 8:11 relates the bringing of the olive branch, a symbol of hope, endurance, and life, to Noah
  • Homer – both the Illiad and the Odyssey

Nonessential, but familiarity is recommended:

  • Neil Gaiman. Sandman – a good reference on the nature of stars, dream, and reality
  • Benjamin Britten. War Requiem (oratorio)
  • Elie Wiesel. Night
  • Rachid Taha. Rock El Casbah, (song – again, in Arabic, so you may want to listen with a side-by-side translation of the original by The Clash)
  • Dante Aleghieri. Divina Commedia
  • Martin McDonagh. “The Lieutenant of Inishmoor”
  • The traditional Welsh lullaby ar hyd nos (all through the night)
  • Stephen Hawking. A Brief History of Time, The Universe In A Nutshell
  • Erich Maria Remarque. Im Westen nichts Neues (All Quiet On the Western Front)
  • The traditional Scots song “The Yew Tree”
  • The Native American legend of Coyote and the stars
  • William Shakespeare. (all of the tragedies plus “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “The Tempest”)

If you really want to see how the elements of the play fit together, fuse all of these works with a liberal amount of imagination. I did not consciously pull from most of these sources, but they are the primary structure of a social enzyme, of which my play is only the surface active site. Some residues are recurrent, some work entirely behind the scenes to position this line or that gesture in your mind to catalyze thought. Well, that is what I strive for, but when your substrates are as varied as the members of an audience, there’s no telling what will come of it. I just hope you enjoy.

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