The question points to the mediocre plots of almost every instance of cinema throughout its history. Here we must be snobs for a moment: Hollywood is all trash, a capitalist farce. Even the groundlings in the 3B for Big Beard Bard willy shakesbeard were closer to esthetes than the platonic dream-bound in darkened theatres and their hypnotic ‘well-made plays’. Most of 3B’s plots were ‘well-made plays’, especially Hamlet, yet its action is all in blank verse. Snobs in Shakesbeard’s time looked down on him, but history turned them over to ridicule before his genius. But the point is apt: the crudity in the bard’s poetics turned mysteriously into gold.
The tragic genre has had two mysterious flowerings, both in terms of the ‘eonic series’: Athenian Greece, and sixteenth/seventeenth-century: England/France. Shakespeare and Racine, especially
George Steiner in his classic Death of Tragedy discusses this classic question. And also the multiple compulsive efforts to produce ‘tragedies’ in the wake of Shakespeare and their strange failure. The problem is that the genre requires poetic dramas and while that is not so impossible in French it has defeated English poets, although Wordsworth in his Prelude, which is not a tragic genre, produces some fascinating blank verse. There are hundreds of attempts to produce blank verse dramas again, even by really good poets like Keats, but they all failed to the head scratching of Steiner.
Part of the problem is that people have forgotten how to write blank verse although with a bit of practice it can be produced as you speak like the hexameters and other multiple verse forms of the Greeks in their epics. But to the problem of simple versification comes the mystery of such a crude poetic form creating high poetry: Shakesbeard solved that also. Steiner struggles with the problem but it can be confused with other issues: a student of the eonic effect sees that the problem is a macrohistorical puzzle of the strange generation of literatures in the evolution macroevolution of civilization, a statement that would seem incomprehensible or plain false in most thinkers. But Shakespeare appears in the mid early modern at the height of the modern transition. Again the question of poetry suffers from aesthetic confusion over verse types and the result is the archaic highfalutin junk poetry of too many…snobs. But we see the way past the snob problem in the emergence of great literatures. Shakespeare speaks in ‘crude’ beauty without snob effects in a common language of crats and groundlings in the theatres of the times. But it is blank verse all the way. There is a mystery to poetry in the way in invokes an unseen dimension that the brain can detect but which our sciences of linguistics can’t yet explain. The same is true of ‘well made plays’: the brain kicks here too, it locks on a ‘good story’ almost instinctively, although a story can have many varietied mander somewhat, in plays a special kind of ‘well made play’ is needed: the same but slightly faster in a kind of rhythm that asks a question the play must answer in a fourth or last act. Lord of the Rings meanders for ever but behind all of it is the question that is to be answered: the fate of the ring. In plays like Hamlet the rhythm is striking, the most so given a here subject to inaction yet in all respects a melodramatic nugget turned into a tragedy.
Let’s put our post today into blank verse:
The mediocre plots of Hollywood
next to the prose of unversed dialogue
begs forth verse tragical as ancient Greece... three minutes, done, very low quality but blank verse, sort of: iambic pentameters, very close to yet distinct from ordinary speech. That blank verse, appearing with Chaucer or thereabouts is almost artificial yet adapted to English is seen in the near ‘iambs’ of three syllable words: ‘mediocre’, Hollywood, dialogue, tragical: they pass, but are borderline iambic, but good for variety. The Greeks had an immense range of differing versifications, in a tonal language unlike the English stressed syllables. Such was always a mystery, but now YouTube has dozens of videos trying to figure out how Greek, and then Greek poetry could have been pronounced. But if you can produce an imabic tidbit in three minutes, soon you can have tidbits at will and you are soon the realm of Homer who with a lyre could produce ‘Homeric epic poetry’ in a sort of a la carte bardic stir fry.
Cinema deserves better than our momentary snobbery but the fact remains that a great tragedy in blank verse is entirely possible. Our moment of snobbery over, we can see that cinema is good wholesome groundling trash for cash, no obstacle as such to blank verse tragedy. But that is a riddle even to most poets.
and Steiner struggled with that too). There is no reason whatever that a cinema could not be done in blank verse, but if you look at the examples of stage classics in cinema, most fail or disregard the meter. The issue is not high/snob art, but a potential of the brain: a sort of food. Human evolution was always accompanied by verse in some form. One exception, almost bizarre is the Hamlet of Mel Gibson, which is quite good. Many of the highfallutin attempts are too arty. But good blank verse is not a boring arty exercise. The trashy junk of Hollywood like mud for a lotus is potentially usable.