Obsession: The Poisonous Quest
For my event analysis I attended The Playwrights Group of Baltimore’s presentation of Playful Poe. During this performance individuals were reading, for the first time, scripts for nine individual plays. This off the cuff style of performance differentiated Playful Poe from other performances that I have seen. Brent Englar’s play, “Team Building” inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s short story The Black Cat struck me the most. During the performance we are introduced to three characters that are intensely competing in a team building exercise. Two of the team members are blindfolded, and must listen to the directions from the third team member. The exercise requires considerable amounts of cooperation and patience, which the team members all seemed to lack. As a result they failed the challenge, and were disqualified. In the end the judges of the game disclaim that all teams who kept at their goal won the exercise. Essentially had the team focused less on their own goals, and more on the goals of the team they would have succeeded regardless of whether or not they finished the exercise. The members became too engrossed in their own self-interests to realize how self-destructive they were to themselves and the group as a whole. Ironically enough this message seems to be hinted at in Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein.
In Frankenstein, Victor is set on obtaining the lofty goal of understanding the mystery of eternal life. His absolute obsession with this quest isolates him physically, socially and mentally. For example, after Victor stumbled upon his infatuation with how creatures change from, “ life to death, and death to life” he dove deep into solving this riddle. As a result, we see Victor’s life deteriorate into a body that lacks a soul. He became so engrossed in his work that, “Winter, spring, and summer passed.” Shelly highlights one of the key aspects of Romanticism. She characterizes Victor in a way that alienates him from the rest of society. Victor begins to take on the persona of a lone figure on a quest. As Victor continues down the lonely and destructive path of solidarity the reader becomes aware of the message Shelly suggests. She highlights how painful the path can be for not only Victor but for people he loves like Elizabeth. The far-reaching effects of solidarity eventually come to destroy everything that Victor once found dear.
In Langston Hughes’s “Old Walt” we are introduced to a theme that, wonderfully encompasses what both Brent Englar and Mary Shelly attempt to highlight in their respective works. In this piece Hughes directly refers to Walter Whitman, a contemporary of Hughes, in a way that makes light of his work. Although Hughes message comes over in a way that does not seem malicious he does seem to suggest a theme common amongst humans. The first few lines state “ Old Walt Whitman/ Went finding and seeking/ Finding less than sought/ Seeking more than found, /” The reader gets the idea that in much of Whitman’s work he intends to answer a difficult or ambiguous question, but eventually ends up unsatisfied with what is found and what is not found. In addition, we see that the speaker suggests a level of isolation that occurs from all of the seeking and finding. For example, the end of stanza one states, “every detail minding/ Of the seeking or the finding. /” This suggests that the speaker becomes absorbed with his obsession of discovery and that constant attention is geared towards this obsession. Hughes seems to be suggesting that no matter what obsession consumes a person, it is unhealthy. By not stating what it is that the speaker is “finding and seeking” the readers is able to decide for what obsession the speaker has. As a result, Hughes is able to make a broad statement about the unhealthy way that obsessions can take hold of lives.
“Formula” is in some ways unrelated to the theme of obsession that can be found in the previous works. Hughes is creating a metaphorical “Formula” that allows one to create a poem. Hughes creates the metaphor by placing an emphasis on nature. In the first stanza the speaker says, “ Poetry should treat/ Of lofty things… And birds with wings./” the speaker suggests that all poems should touch on lofty idea, which are often very ambiguous, and themes of nature. Hughes continues to highlight nature at the end of each stanza. This process continues throughout the poem. For example, the speaker states that, “ earthly pain/ Is everywhere. /” Hughes repeatedly uses the theme of nature, which happens to be a common aspect of Romanticism, in this poem. This draws the reader’s attention to how often nature is expressed in the form of poetry. In addition, Hughes ironically suggests that using the theme of nature is an aspect of the metaphorical formula of making poetry.