Posts Tagged ‘Ethan Hawke’

Hawke: Rules For a Knight

January 9, 2017

hawke-knightRules for a Knight
Ethan Hawke
(Knopf, 2015)
172 p.

Stories of knights and ladies have an enduring place in children’s literature. Though they act for better and for worse, there is something intrinsically ennobling about a knight that makes him a suitable bearer of moral instruction. Knights protect the innocent, are loyal to their friends, honour God, fight bravely, and have good manners.

This same tradition of knightly conduct informs this charming little book. Framed as a letter written by one Sir Thomas Lemuel Hawke, a fifteenth-century knight, to his children, it includes a sequence of short meditations on a variety of knightly virtues. There are aphorisms, parables, and brief meditations, none longer than a few pages, and many containing solid moral insight.

To give a few examples: the book opens with a short meditation on the value of solitude, which includes this thought:

“Just as it is impossible to see your reflection in troubled water, so too is it with the soul.”

Or, on gratitude:

“The only intelligent response to the on-going gift of life is gratitude.”

Or, on friendship:

“The quality of your life will, to a large extent, be decided by with whom you elect to spend your time.”

Or, on honesty:

“We are here to grow, and the truth is the water, the light, and the soil from which we rise. The armor of falsehood is subtly wrought out of the darkness and hides us not only from others but from our own soul.”

Or, on courage:

“Anything that gives light must endure burning.”

Similarly, Sir Thomas discusses patience, forgiveness, generosity, justice, discipline, love, and other virtues. Although platitudes do crop up here and there, for the most part I found the book’s advice to be sound, thoughtful, and well-expressed.

The book does fall short in one significant respect: it is a book of immanent ethics, without a transcendent dimension. Even subjects, like “faith” and “grace”, that naturally would lead in that direction are cut short, with predictably feeble results. (Of faith: “Sometimes to understand more, you need to know less.”) In general, the greater the gravity of the subject (“love”, “death”), the less adequate Sir Thomas’ treatment sounds to me. This is not surprising, for these are the most difficult subjects to treat adequately.

Still, there is much solid counsel in these pages, and the book would make, I would think, a splendid and suitable gift for a child of 10 or 12 years old.

**

At the end of the book is an acknowledgements section, and although the list of those to whom thanks is extended includes living people who are, perhaps, the author’s friends, it also includes quite a few dead people whom the author could know only through books. One gets the sense, when perusing the names, that these are, in one sense or another, the author’s spiritual sources, those through whom he has gleaned what wisdom he has. The names are worth pondering:

knight-rules_1
knight-rules_2It would be a good exercise for each of us to compile our own such list of names.

**

Physically, the book is a handsome thing: a gorgeous hardback with gilt lettering and a ribbon to mark one’s place. The paper is sturdy, and the text is graced with numerous pencil drawings of birds; these are a fine addition, for they complement the meditative tone of the book by giving the eye something lovely and delicate to rest upon between lessons. The book is small, perfectly scaled for a child’s hand. The only design flaw is that the author’s name is too prominent on both spine and gilt cover. But this, in the usual course of things, is the publisher’s doing, not the author’s.

Speaking of the author, yes, it’s that Ethan Hawke: novelist, screenwriter, and Hollywood star. There’s a caricature of movie stars as pretty-faced bubble-heads, as men without chests, and it would be contrary to evidence to claim this caricature wholly false, but this little book proves that it isn’t wholly true either. The illustrations are by Ryan Hawke, his wife.

On screen: Hamlet (2000)

March 16, 2011

Directed by Michael Almereyda. Starring Ethan Hawke, Bill Murray, Liev Schreiber, Julia Stiles, and others.
Miramax Films (2000); 112 min.

Being a rather stodgy curmudgeon (that is, of conservative temperament) I normally prefer traditional productions of Shakespeare to modernizations, but this modernized version of Hamlet is one of my favourite Shakespearean film adaptations, and is certainly my favourite film version of this play. (The only other versions that I have seen, mind you, are Branagh’s and Zeffirelli’s.) It is a sleek, brisk telling of the story, clocking in comfortably under two hours, but it makes a remarkably strong impression, even considering its rather subdued tonal palette.

First, the gimmick: this Hamlet is not Prince of Denmark, but of Denmark Corporation, and Claudius is not king, but CEO. The whole film is set amid the glass-and-steel towers of a modern urban core; closed circuit cameras allow characters to watch one another; messages are dispatched through fax machines; Hamlet goes to England on an airplane; and, in a memorable sequence, he recites the famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy while wandering up and down the aisles at a Blockbuster video store.

Director Michael Almereyda justifies the peculiar setting by doing some interesting things with it. Most obviously, he saturates Hamlet’s environment with images of himself — in mirrors, reflective glass windows, video cameras — which is a nice visual means of illustrating, and even augmenting, his morbid self-reflection. The cold, inhuman landscape of office towers has an alien, and alienating, feel to it, which contributes something fitting to the mood of the play.

The cast is pretty good. Bill Murray, as Polonius, lets me down a little; I always think of Richard Briers in this role (from Branagh’s film), and Murray lacks something in comparison. Liev Schrieber and Julia Stiles, as Laertes and Ophelia, are very good. Pity the actor who has to play the prince, but Ethan Hawke is good for the role: he can, at the least, tell a hawke from a handsawe. He plays the role with a ruminative quality somewhere between apathy and stunned insensibility; several of his soliloquies are delivered as quiet, half-mumbled voice-overs. In his performance (and actually this is characteristic of the film as a whole) the emotional outbursts are kept to a minimum, adding extra punch to those that do happen. Overall, Hawke’s Hamlet comes across as something like a disaffected fledgling intellectual, ready with facile rejoinders and distracting syllogisms, and weary of the world. This is a legitimate interpretation; Hamlet is a university student, after all. Mercifully, there is little attempt in this film to honour the ‘Oedipal Hamlet’ theory.

The short playing time means that, inevitably, a considerable amount of material has been cut. Most serious is the deletion of the grave-digger scene (we are compensated, wittily but insufficiently, by a brief shot of a grave-digger gaily singing Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”); the associated scene of Ophelia’s burial is correspondingly much modified. The riskiest interpretive decision made by Almereyda is surely his having Gertrude intentionally drink the poison at play’s end; her motivation for doing so is, I confess, quite unclear to me.

For the most part, however, the screenplay does justice to each of the central characters and to the play itself. This film had a limited theatrical release, earning only about two million dollars at the box office, so I believe that many people will not have seen it. If you enjoy Shakespeare on film, I recommend this adaptation; I am not aware of many that are better.