Knives in Hens by David Harroweri dont read a lot of plays. but i came across a couple that piqued my interest while toiling at the book factory, and decided to give them a try. this one called to me because of the title, obviously, but also the part of the synopsis describing it as a brutal fable set in a timeless rural community. i LOVE brutal fables set in timeless rural communities! and so while the rest of the synopsis, about the transformative power of knowledge and an emerging consciousness as the world moves from rural to the urban and industrial struck me as a bit pretentious, i decided to read it anyway.
it was not my favorite.
i kind of knew i was in trouble from the very first batch of dialogue:
Young Woman Im not a field. Howm I a field? Whats a field? Flat. Wet. Black with rain. Im no field.
William Never said that.
Young Woman Says Im a field sitting here.
William Said youre like a field.
Young Woman Said Im a field sitting here.
William Said youre like a field. Like a field.
Young Woman S the same.
William Nothing close, woman.
Young Woman If Im like a field must be a field.
William Dont have to be a thing to be like it.
Young Woman How?
William Just dont.
Young Woman M I other things? Fire?
William I got mud for feet. Cant feel them.
i mean, that makes david mamets dialogue seem naturalistic and verbose. ooooh, burn.
apart from the stilted dialogue, and the shades of beckett in this WTF opening exchange, the play is overall very stark and porous. things definitely happen, but its hard to say why they happen. theres a murder, and the motive for that is clear, but smaller situations are as obscure as can be. to me. although maybe not just to me, as the first line of the introduction is:
If you think Knives in Hens is mysterious, elliptical, and strange, dont worry: you are not alone.
which is all well and good for my readerly self-esteem, but im no more comfortable being bored and confused in a crowd than i am when standing alone, so thats not really a consolation. im no stranger to close reading and filling in the blanks when it comes to purposefully ambiguous texts - i did my time in undergrad english major land, learning all the theory, making all the critical assessments, dissecting all the texts and examining them through all the various filters, but theres such a thing as too much ambiguity, where you find yourself scrutinizing every word for meaning, pawing through the gristle n bone sparseness of a text and left with nothing but shreds for your troubles.
ive never been big on reader-response criticism - it always seemed like slippery hippie shit to me. if an authors intentions are meaningless, why read at all? it smacks of lazy everyone gets a medal indulgence and allows idiots to be critical kings for a day. so, when i read further into the introduction (after reading the play, obviously) and came across this, it irritated me:
Even looking thematically, we end up with suggestions rather than definitive explanations. The plays global popularity is thanks to its capacity to be interpreted in so many different ways. A feminist could see it as the story of a woman who travels from ignorance to political consciousness. A humanist could see it as a metaphor for a society waking up to its own potential. The politically minded could regard it as a vision of a people moving from enslavement to liberation. A supporter of the arts could see it as the crucial evolutionary step from the literal to the imaginative. A Freudian could interpret it in terms of dark sexual stirrings as we try to reconcile our brute animal side with our refined intellectual side. A religious philosopher could recognise it as a journey from God-fearing indoctrination to original thought. A self-help guru could see it in terms of self-knowledge and personal fulfilment. A folklorist could identify the archetypal forces at play, identifying the Young Woman as a Cinderella figure who makes the rags-to-riches transition from servitude to freedom. A historian could see it as the story of the age of superstition turning into the age of enlightenment. McMillan saw it as the transition from a world driven by muscle power and simple implements to one driven by language and technology. I could go on.
and thats the problem - he probably could. but whats the fucking point?
apparently this play was a Very Big Deal in the world of scottish theater (or theatre) in the 1990s, revitalizing the possibilities of the performative arts and taking the (theater) world by storm. and for that, i say well done, david harrower!
but for me, it was merely medium-okay.
Knives in Hens
It happens only rarely. First staged in , but only now receiving its New York premiere, this stark three-character play came early in the career of Mr. And each time the play itself if not always the production has elicited the kind of marveling, open-mouthed praise that leaves you wary.
Knives In Hens
On first viewing the Edinburgh Traverse production, I took it to be a play about female empowerment through language. On one level, the play has the simplicity of a fable. In a pre-industrial, God-fearing community, we see a character known simply as Young Woman tethered like an animal to a village ploughman called Pony William. Although, like everyone else, she is taught to hate the local miller, the woman finds in him a source of emotional release that enables her to escape her husband and articulate her long-suppressed feelings. Even the miller, whom I initially took to be a figure of bookish enlightenment, can be viewed as a shrewd exploiter who profits by turning the hard-won grain into flour.
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Please note that this product is not available for purchase from Bloomsbury. Knives in Hens is a brutal fable set in a timeless spartan rural community "An outstanding new Scottish play, David Harrower's Knives in Hens is set in a God-fearing, pre-industrial world and deals, passionately and intelligently with a woman's discovery of a language that corresponds with her feelings - Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief. It is definitely pre-industrial as the farmers still need to have their grains ground at a mill and no one has yet seen a pen.
David Harrower's first produced play has become one of the most performed Scottish plays of all time. The austere haunting quality of the play has transferred successfully to productions all over the world, in languages including Norwegian, German and Serbo-Croat. The play is set in an unspecified God-fearing rural past where change is threatening and outsiders are viewed with suspicion. A young woman is driven to kill her ploughman husband, Pony William, with the help of Gilbert Horn, an outsider and the local miller. At the same time she discovers her independence and her ability to use language, travelling from ignorance to awareness. When I look up I will see the sun shine bright on the sky.