Stoop, then, and wash. How many ages hence
Shall this our lofty scene be acted over
In states unborn and accents yet unknown!
How many times shall Caesar bleed in sport,
That now on Pompey’s basis lies along
No worthier than the dust!
So oft as that shall be,
So often shall the knot of us be call’d
The men that gave their country liberty.
I think it would have amused the Romans of Caesar’s generation if they could have learned that the assassination of Julius Caesar would eventually receive immortality through a play written more than 16 centuries after the event by a barbarian playwright in the Tin Islands that Caesar had briefly invaded. It would have tickled their well developed concept of the ludicrous, judging from Roman comedy.
In the above video William Shatner gives a pretty poor rendition of the Mark Antony speech. Charlton Heston, below, shows him how it should be done:
It is strange the fascination that the assassination of Caesar, more than twenty centuries ago, continues to exert. Popular historian Barry Strauss has just released a book on the assassination of Caesar, to join the ranks of the many volumes on the subject that came before. (Strauss is a first rate historian, and I have purchased this book although I have not yet read it.) Why should this assassination remain of interest? I think the clue is Dante placing Brutus and Cassius, the chief assassins, in the maws of Satan in his Inferno. Dante was a partisan of the Empire, and thus the murders of Caesar, the man who gave the dying Republic its final, fatal blow and set the stage for the Empire, were worthy to be placed in the mouths of Satan, along with Judas who betrayed Christ. Continue reading
“Don’t step on the toes of the dog lovers, the cat lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, Mormons, Baptists, Unitarians, second-generation Chinese, Swedes, Italians, Germans, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people from Oregon or Mexico. The people in this book, this play, this TV serial are not meant to represent any actual painters, cartographers, mechanics anywhere.”
Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
One of the more ludicrous current fads on the academic left is the demand for trigger warnings. Apparently some precious snow flake might recall bad memories by being exposed to literature much beyond twitter scrawls, hence the demand that, for example, Milton’s Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, be prefaced by warnings that it might trigger bad memories in those still in recovery for those told to “Shut up and sit down !” at Catechism or Sunday School back when they were seven, or that Satanists might have memories of insults tossed at them by Christians intolerant of those who worship absolute evil. Of course all of this is being done as yet another way of ensuring that the political shibboleths of the moment of the left will never be forgotten for a nano second, especially when perusing literature that might engender political heresy.
Doni Wilson at The Federalist helpfully suggests nine trigger warnings for Hamlet:
1) If you have ever seen a ghost, and were scared out of your mind even though smart enough to get into a university (hey, Horatio and Hamlet were getting all smartened up at Wittenberg!), then YOU MIGHT WANT TO SKIP ACT ONE SCENE ONE because maybe a ghost appears. Now I don’t really believe in ghosts, and I have never seen one, but maybe you have, so obviously I cannot relate to your level of trauma, and I have no idea if you will get all pale and speechless while reading this scene, never to be the same, so here is your trigger warning. You’re welcome. I am super relieved we are not reading Oedipus Rex.
2) Although you might think Hamlet is really obsessed with his mother and Ophelia and how they behave, if you have been in a war, heard of a war, object to war, fear war, or have even been in favor of a war, you might not have caught this, but those night-time security guys are awake ALL NIGHT because Denmark is, how shall I say it? They are having a martial conflict with Norway. If you don’t know what “martial” means, then you have probably not been traumatized. If you thought I wrote “marital,” then you might have been, but that is a whole different trigger warning. I am getting to them as fast as I can. War is horrible, and in Hamlet most of it is off stage, but still. You need to know.
3) If your Mom married your wily uncle pretty quickly after your Dad was murdered, and you thought that was kind of, well, unseemly, then this might not be the play for you.
4) If you, as an American, have been to France, and had French people be really rude to you, there is this little moment where Laertes actually asks permission to go back, and so that might just be too much for you. Just sayin.’ Continue reading
We are in God’s hand, brother, not in theirs.
King Henry V
The anniversary of the long ago battle of Saint Crispin’s Day gives us yet another opportunity to recall the immortal “Band of Borthers Speech” that Shakespeare put into the mouth of Henry V, a speech that could put fight into a dog dead three days, or, mirabile dictu, even a live Congress Critter:
WESTMORELAND. O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!
KING. What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more. Continue reading
Today is the 449th birthday of William Shakespeare. The above video is from the hilarious The Bard episode of The Twilight Zone broadcast in 1963. William Shakespeare is brought by magic into modern times and works as a script writer for a television show. Burt Reynolds gives an absolutely dead on impersonation of Marlon Brando. Rod Serling poured into the script his own frustrations as a television writer and the episode can be taken as a searing, albeit humorous, critique of the level of literacy of what was being broadcast. I have always found the episode a hoot, but now my enjoyment is tinged with sadness with the knowledge that most television programs from that era read like Shakespeare compared to the toxic dump that is most television fare these days. I am glad that Shakespeare is not around to see it. Continue reading
I think it would have amused the Romans of Caesar’s generation if they could have learned that the assassination of Julius Caesar would eventually receive immortality through a play written more than 16 centuries after the event by a barbarian playwright in the Tin Islands that Caesar had briefly invaded. It would have tickled their well developed concept of the ludicrous, judging from Roman comedy. Continue reading
History is always a subject without end. The body of the last Plantagenet king of England, Richard III has been identified:
“The verification came after scientific tests were used to match DNA samples taken from Canadian-born Michael Ibsen, a direct descendent of Anne of York, Richard’s elder sister.
“For me it’s an absolute privilege to be a part, even in a small way, of such a historically significant series of events,” said Ibsen, a furniture-maker in London.
The debate that has risen out of this finding has provoked the nation to rethink the legacy of Richard III, cast in British history by Shakespeare as a deformed villain, who locked his young nephews — rivals to the throne — in the Tower of London, where they are thought to have met their demise.
Richard III’s grave, which was found underneath the Leicester site in the remains of Greyfriars friary, had been lost during the religious reforms of Henry VIII. Richard, the last king of England to fall on the battlefield, was slain in the 1485 Battle of Bosworth Field while defending his crown against the raiding upstart, Henry VII. He was famously depicted in Shakespeare’s “Richard III” crying out before his death: “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”” Continue reading
The Mark Antony speech with a host of voices by impressionist Jim Meskimen. I find it immensely enjoyable to listen to, although perhaps not as uncanny as his Clarence dream speech from Richard III: Continue reading
Crispin and Crispian, gone since Vatican II, but never forgotten so long as Henry V is recited!
Though the great houses love us not, we own, to do them right,
That the great houses, all save one, have borne them well in fight.
Still Caius of Corioli, his triumphs and his wrongs,
His vengeance and his mercy, live in our camp-fire songs.
Thomas Babbington Macaulay
The above film is being released on December 2, 2011 here in the US, and I am greatly looking forward to it. Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare’s plays that is not performed as regularly as other plays of the Bard, which is a shame, because it is a powerful play about love and hate. Gnaeus Marcius is a Roman patrician who fought in Rome’s wars shortly after the expulsion from Rome of the last of the Tarquin Kings and the foundation of the Roman Republic, conventionally dated at 508 BC. Our ancient sources in regard to his career are plentiful, including Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Livy, Appian and Plutarch. Unfortunately these writers wrote 450-600 years after the time of Coriolanus, and early Roman history is almost impossible to distinguish myth from fact.
Something for the weekend. Agincourt by the ever talented folks at History for Music Lovers, to the tune of As Tears Go By, by Marianne Faithful.
October 25, 1415 was an amazing day for the English. The English longbow had long proved in the Hundred Years War to be a devastating weapon in the hands of skilled archers, but rarely had the English faced such long odds as they did at Agincourt. Approximately 6,000 English, exhausted and worn from their march, faced approximately 30,000 French. About five out of six of the English were archers with the remainder men-at-arms, knights and nobility. The French had about 10,000 men-at-arms, knights and nobility, and 20,000 archers, crossbowmen and miscellaneous infantry.
The English established their battle line between the woods of Agincourt and Tramecourt, which offered excellent protection to both of their flanks. The English archers made up the front line with stakes set in the ground before them to impale charging horses. Archers were also placed in the woods to provide flanking fire against advancing French. The men at arms and knights and nobility, were divided into three forces behind the archers. They fought on foot.
The terrain between the woods that the French would have to cross in their attack of the English consisted of newly ploughed, and very muddy, fields. Having walked through muddy fields on several occasions in rural Illinois, I can attest that simply getting from point A to point B in such terrain can be exhausting, let alone fighting at the end of the tramp through the morass. Continue reading
No special reason to post this, other than I have always loved this speech, and one video containing four perormances of the “band of brothers” speech from Henry V is too sweet not to share with our readers. Courage, memory and love are powerful motivators, and this speech is a reminder of just how powerful: Continue reading
Something for the weekend. What is a Youth from Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet (1968). I think this film is the most beautiful adaptation of Shakespeare’s paean to young love. Continue reading
I love Shakespeare and I love history, so I naturally glommed on to Shakespeare’s An Age of Kings (Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI and Richard III) after it was released by the BBC in this country. The plays are divided into 15 episodes, a total of 947 minutes. First broadcast in 1960, the plays present a galaxy of British actors and actresses who later went on to build outstanding careers. The two standouts are Sean Connery as Harry Hotspur, and Robert Hardy as Juvenile Delinquent turned Hero King Henry V. It should be remembered however that these were originally broadcast in 1960 and the visual quality is often not of the best. Nonetheless, mediocre black and white visuals detract not a whit from the superb performances. This would be a good set for homeschooling parents who wish to introduce their kids to Shakespeare.