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    Literature in the Flanaess - The Tragedies of Liam Wilspare
    Posted on Sun, May 21, 2006 by Dongul
    gvdammerung writes "The Bard. Of Greyhawk. His tragic plays include:

    Thrommel & Jolene
    Naelex Agonistes

    "What light through yonder window breaks?"

    Literature in the Flanaess - The Tragedies of Liam Wilspare
    By: Glenn Vincent Dammerung, aka GVDammerung
    Post with permission. Do not repost without obtaining prior permission from the author.

    Demonstrating a great range of ability, Liam Wilspare, the Bard of Willip, has produced a number of plays other than the histories, that have arguably brought him perhaps the most acclaim. The so-called tragedies share themes of loss and sorrow. While not as popular as the histories or comedies, the tragedies are highly dramatic and universally preferred by actors. The raw emotions of the characters provide ample opportunity for actors to exercise the full spectrum of their gifts.

    Critics have been sharply mixed in their reactions to the tragedies. Some see these plays, with the exception of Naelax Agonistes, as mere escapism, as much for Wilspare as for the audience. They decry as over the top the theatrics that so endear the plays to actors. Sentimental. Melodramatic. These are the chief criticisms. Supporters of the tragedies reply that these critics are demonstrating the same phlegmatic preference for history that has long dogged literature in the Flanaess. To adherents, the tragedies provide the greatest opportunity for Wilspare to plumb the depths of the psyche and soul. Genuine. Affecting. These are the adjectives that typify a counter-view of the tragedies as explorations of character, first and foremost.

    Whatever the merits of the debate, the public has less enthusiastically embraced the tragedies and Wilspare has produced fewer of them. Of the four plays, Naelax Agonistes is widely judged a masterpiece, tragedy or no. Megwandir and Kas are, however, perhaps the most interesting, as for the first time, Wilspare works with mythology and fantasy. Thrommel and Jolene, unsurprisingly, has been the most successful with the general public, bridging the gap between history and tragedy. Each of the four plays is described below.

    by Liam Wilspare (1 Volume)
    1st Edition - 581 CY

    Note - The fourth edition is notable for being lavishly illuminated, ostensibly as a children’s edition. No other edition has republished the fourth edition illuminated panels. Megwandir recounts the story of Lolth, called Megwandir, and her fall from the Seldarine. It is a story of jealously, love, obsession and betrayal, epic in every sense. The staging is ominously dark and frightening. Of all Wilspare’s plays, Megwandir is the most popular with children. It is one of the plays performed annually when the Royal Wilspare Company visits
    Chendl, usually as a matinee well attended by the children of the court. Despite this popularity with children, the actual themes involved are hardly suitable for children, being entirely adult. It is said that a production of the play that revels in these darker images is extremely popular among audiences in Molag and in the Pomarj. In Dorakaa, a performance is said to be followed by an orgiastic revel, presided over the dark elf Eclavdra, if rumors are to be believed.

    The genesis of Megwandir is a subject of much speculation. Liam Wilspare’s youthful association with the elves of Celene is well documented. Some suggest that his sojourn in that fey land provided him the inspiration for the play. As among dark elves, Megwandir has taken on the trappings of a religious or "passion" play, some suggest that the Bard may have ventured beneath the earth to hear Lolth’s story first hand. Whatever the truth, Megwandir is the first of Wilspare’s works, but hardly the last, to deal with an elven theme.

    by Liam Wilspare (1 Volume)
    1st Edition - 583 CY

    Note - Many spurious versions of this work exist. Most are circulated by those associated with the cult of Vecna, who rewrite certain passages to obviously flatter the Arch-lich.

    Kas is the most spectacularly staged of Wilspare’s plays after only Rhola & Neheli Part I. As such, it is immensely popular but not as often performed because of the cost of production. The story is well known. It is that of the arch-lich Vecna and his lieutenant Kas. While neither may be rightly considered a hero, Kas generally comes off better than Vecna. Despite this, Vecna’s followers in the present age have never given Wilspare any trouble for the portrayal of their Lord. Indeed, they are responsible for much of the success of published volumes, even if by means of spurious copies.

    A whispered rumor that surrounds this play is that Wilspare had access to original source
    material in the person of the vampire Kas. Certainly, many of the details of the story of Vecna and Kas are nowhere else found. While this might be brushed aside as artistic license, adventurous sorts picking up on details in the play have made some remarkable discoveries that substantiate this particular or that. The avid interest in the play of no less a personage than the wizard Mordenkainen has also caused a stir. Darkest of all rumors is that Wilspare and the Aerdi bard Nightsong are one and the same and Nightsong’s copious knowledge is then the Bard’s. More rational thought would have them merely acquainted. Wilspare, for his part, refuses to discuss his works in any detail, preferring that "the work speak for itself."

    Thrommel & Jolene
    by Liam Wilspare (1 Volume)
    1st Edition - 591 CY

    Note - Thrommel & Jolene has been republished more than any of Wilspare’s written works. It has gone through 42 distinct, authorized editions and numerous unauthorized editions. This is, however, more a tribute to the subject matter than Wilspare’s treatment of that subject matter.

    Drawing on the seminal works of the Thrommel Cycle, particularly those of Boiard and Aristo, Wilspare has crafted the definitive version of the story for the stage. The details of the tale are more than familiar. Of note is how the disappearance and subsequent death of Prince Thrommel is handled. It occurs entirely offstage, at almost the very end of the play. It falls to the actress playing Jolene to depict the shock and loss of Thrommel so that it is powerfully conveyed to the audience. This is not an easy task and the role of Jolene has been turned down by some actresses afraid of the heavy responsibility, fearful of being unable to pull off such a dramatic turn. Other productions have given more emphasis to the Belvor role if they are uncertain of their Jolene.

    While the definitive stage treatment, Wilspare’s Thrommel & Jolene is not accounted among the works that comprise the Thrommel Cycle. Perhaps, this reflects some prejudice against the stage. More likely, it is the recognition that the play, while exceedingly well written, is hardly among Wilspare’s best. Thrommel & Jolene may almost be said to be jingoistic in its tugging of the heartstrings, particularly those of Furyondy and the other successor states of Old Ferrond. Certainly, it boosted Wilspare’s standing in those lands and with the Furyondian court, where Thrommel & Jolene is a perennial favorite of the crown. Nonetheless, any collection of the Thrommel Cycle will include a copy of Thrommel & Jolene as something of an appendix. The first folio edition of the play is particularly sought after to make more complete the collection of Cycle first editions.

    Naelex Agonistes
    by Liam Wilspare (1 Volume)
    1st Edition - 592 CY

    Note - This volume has been banned throughout the successor states to the Great Kingdom. It is banned even in Rel Astra. Possession of a copy is punishable by maiming or death, depending on the successor state.

    A masterpiece and arguably Wilspare’s greatest work, Naelex Agonistes recounts the fall of the Aerdi House of Naelax into madness and debauchery. Graphic and dramatic, the play features some of Wilspare’s best writing. The characters are boldly drawn but avoid caricature. The staging is impressive but not grandiose. The storyline is compact but fully addresses the tragic history of House Naelax. Exhausted is how audiences leave the theater, their emotions and senses wrung. Not surprisingly, an audience member’s politics will greatly influence how they perceive the play, either a brilliant recounting of a tragedy that still haunts the Flanaess, or the ultimate hatchet job, character assassination elaborately dressed up as entertainment.

    In consideration of Naelex Agonistes, rumors again circulate of some connection between the Bard of Willip and the infamous Aerdi bard Nightsong. Neither party is commenting, however, although Nightsong would conceivably have the most to loose, living in Aerdi if rumors that he has moved on are to be disbelieved. Whatever the case, Naelex Agonistes is a masterwork by a master playwright. If Rhola & Neheli Parts I and II first established Wilspare as a literary fixture in the Flanaess, Naelex Agonistes has well confirmed that critical judgment. It is interesting that Wilspare has not revisited his triumph, either with more of the Naelax or simply another tragedy. In subsequent works, he has turned his hand more to comedy.

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    Re: Literature in the Flanaess - The Tragedies of Liam Wilspare (Score: 1)
    by Wolfsire on Mon, May 22, 2006
    (User Info | Send a Message | Journal)
    Great work again.  But I was surprised there was no reference to banning in relation to Kas.  I would think you would be burned alive for putting it on in Keoland or Gran March.  If I used it, it will probably be a secret play.  Maybe put it in a spellbook- like tomb with some advantage for performance, or something like that, and have a monster/servant of Vecna chasing it.  The plot almost writes itself, thanks!

    Re: Literature in the Flanaess - The Tragedies of Liam Wilspare (Score: 1)
    by GVDammerung on Mon, May 22, 2006
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    Thank you. :)

    On banning.  A very likely prospect!  The play could indeed be or have been variously banned.  I'd think it depends on how much credence you give to Wilspare's access to "original" source material and how much of that might make it into any particular rendition or production.

    I chose not to go the banning route directly as I imagined the fall of Vecna would be a popular subject in Keoland and the Gran March, where he early caused such troubles.  But, of course, that would depend on how it was done.

    I like your idea.  It resonates of Robert Chambers short story "The King in Yellow" - "a play of poisonous beauty" - and James Blish's later expansion of the play, the short story "More Light."  I never thought to go that way but the thought has great appeal.  As you say, it almost writes itself.

    IMC, The King in Yellow is an actual text and is attributable to the influence of the Necronomicon in Keoland.  In GH canon, of course, there is the psionically potent "Yellow Tome," stolen from the Great Library in Greyhawk.  I never have decided if the two are related . . . but I vear off topic.

    Great comment.  Thank you. :)


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