1. The History Boys: The titular boys are eight in number--all bright lads applying to Oxford and Cambridge. I saw the play on Broadway and really appreciated it, then saw the movie version last week and think it might be even better: it's more streamlined, and I am SO glad that all of the original cast members participated! It's also what prompted this post, as I got to thinking about other works of fiction that feature groups of eight characters...
2. ...like 8 Women, a crazy, campy, French musical-comedy-mystery-melodrama film. One of my ultimate guilty pleasure movies. But with actresses like Deneuve, Huppert and Ardant among the eight women, how can you possibly go wrong?
3. The Group: In this Mary McCarthy novel, eight women are the main characters; again, it's a bit of a guilty pleasure, but a fun read. I wrote about it last year here on my blog.
4. "Octet" from The Light in the Piazza: This song contains some of the most beautiful, soaring melodic themes in the musical, and very poetic lyrics. One of my favorite moments in the Lincoln Center production came at the end of this number, when the characters paired off in couples--Clara & Fabrizio, Franca & Giuseppe, Mr. & Mrs. Nacarelli--leaving only the Priest and Margaret. The Priest was on the sidelines, but Margaret stepped downstage center, and you suddenly realized how profoundly alone she was, even in the midst of the beautiful harmonies surrounding her.
5. The Wheel of the Year: In "Octet," the characters sing "The shock of winter / The coming on of spring / Suspended summer nights / The eager flights / That only fall can bring." So, four seasons. And if you have two holidays per season--one at its commencement, one in the middle--that gives you eight holidays, as well as the Wheel of the Year used by Wiccans. I read a lot of fantasy novels when I was younger, many written by Wiccans, so I learned a lot about the eight festivals: Samhain, Yule, Imbolc, Ostara, Beltane, Midsummer, Lughnasa and Harvest Home. Or, if you prefer a medieval Christian cycle of holidays: Halloween, Christmas, Candlemas, Lady Day, May Day, St. John's Eve, Lammas and Michaelmas. Though neither a pagan nor Christian, I am still attracted to the idea of having a festival to reconnect with the cycle of nature every month and a half.
6. Ottava rima: A stanza of eight lines that rhyme A-B-A-B-A-B-C-C. It's more often used in Italian than English, as the name suggests, but it's also the rhyme scheme that Byron chose for his long comic poem "Don Juan." The first six lines of each stanza are just long enough for Byron to set up a joke, then the final couplet serves as a zingy punchline, often with a hilarious trick rhyme involved. Here is some Byronic wit, which also happens to continue our theme of "seasons" (Canto I stanza 102):
It was upon a day, a summer's day--7. The Noble Eightfold Path: Another religion which incorporates the number eight is Buddhism. I have always thought that the Buddhists had some good things to say about the causes of suffering and the ways of alleviating it, such as the Eightfold Path to Enlightenment. It consists of: right perspective, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. That is, first you get in the right frame of mind, then you strive to live ethically, and only then can you gain insight into Existence by meditating upon it. (Note that the Eightfold Path is different from the Eight Precepts of Buddhism, which I do not like so much. They suggest that to become more holy, one should refrain from singing, dancing, and going to the theater!)
Summer's indeed a very dangerous season,
And so is spring about the end of May;
The sun, no doubt, is the prevailing reason;
But whatsoe'er the cause is, one may say,
And stand convicted of more truth than treason,
That there are months which nature grows more merry in:
March has its hares, and May must have its heroine.
8. The solar system: Yeah, we all learned that it had nine planets, but now that Pluto has been kicked out, it's back to eight. When I was two years old I said that I wanted to become an astronaut and visit all the planets. This reduction in size of the solar system at least would make my task a little easier...
Photo of the History Boys from darkhorizons.com. Photo of "8 Women" from opalfilmlists.blogspot.com. Photo of the planets from earthhistory.org.uk