Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Rochester Character

I've been neglecting this blog, but these last couple of weeks have been busy. And I got sick somewhere in there. Not fun. But I should be able to take comfort from the fact that Josh Groban was sick at the same time.

Anyway, I'd like to compare two characters today: Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre (where else?) and Henry Higgins from George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion. If you're familiar with these two, that probably sounds pretty drastic, but just hear my argument first.

Last spring (almost exactly a year ago), I saw a great version of this play in Mesa by the Southwest Shakespeare Company, starring Broadway actor David Adkins as Henry Higgins. I thought it was hilarious, so I had to go see it a second time, which happened to be its last performance. For those of you who aren't familiar with it, it's based on the myth of a sculptor who falls in love with his statue of his ideal woman. In the play, Higgins is a professor of phonetics who teaches Eliza Dolittle, a London flower girl, to speak with a proper accent. At times, it seems like they're going to end up together, but they actually don't for character reasons.

Now, both Rochester and Higgins have changeable natures. They're often curt in speech, jumping quickly from one attitude to another. Rochester studiously examines Jane's paintings before abruptly ordering them away; Higgins excitedly tells Pickering about recording his visitor's speech until he sees that it's Eliza and grumpily sends her away. Higgins is more easily likeable, though, because it's so easy to just laugh at his antics, whereas Rochester is a darker character.

Both of them are overbearing towards Jane and Eliza. They order them about and treat their feelings rather harshly. But Jane welcomes the attention, Rochester's strength, and the chance to help someone improve himself. Eliza is too strong a character to bend underneath Higgins, who is himself too complete in himself to ease up enough to keep her.

Keep the two main points of "the Rochester character" in mind. Changeable and controlling. I'll probably refer to this more, especially when I bring in another couple characters.

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