Winter of Our Discontent Comparison

I am fascinated by the opening soliloquy of Richard III. Most of it is Shakespeare at his best and a little, Shakespeare at his worst:

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums chang’d to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visag’d war hath smoothed his wrinkled front,
And now, instead of mounting barbed steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass—
I, that am rudely stamped, and want love’s majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph—
I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time
Into this breathing world scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them—
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity.
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels, and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the King
In deadly hate the one against the other;
And if King Edward be as true and just
As I am subtle, false, and treacherous,
This day should Clarence closely be mew’d up—
About a prophecy which says that G
Of Edward’s heirs the murderer shall be.

If you ever want to really get inside a piece of poetry: memorize it. Nothing is like it. In trying to memorize it, you look at it from every possible angle. I have, of course, memorized this exact speech. And so I think that I understand it pretty well. Here is my take, in more or less plain English:

The king has made us all safe and happy—he’s ended the war. All the terrors that haunted us are now gone for good. We have been honored as heroes, put away our weapons, silenced all calls to arms, and rested our aching bodies. War has put on a happy face, and instead of charging his enemies, he seduces our women. But I am ugly, and though I may want love, who would have me? I am a deformed beast! Even dogs bark when I come near. So in this wimpy time of peace, I am not happy. What choice do I have? Stare at my deformed shadow? No. Since I can’t have a life of love, I will have hatred. I will pass my days with villainous deeds. Already, I have spread a rumor that my brother means to murder the king. And soon, I will destroy them both!

Clearly, Richard is not a well-adjusted person. Even more: he is not a believable character. No one runs their life that way, “I have two options: lover or villain.” It’s ridiculous. But that doesn’t make it any less fun.

Henry Irving

As is discussed in the lecture available in And I Won’t Even Complain About Not Much Liking Shakespeare, Henry Irving is the first person to record Shakespeare. He probably did it in 1888. And what he recorded was this opening soliloquy from Richard III. It is a remarkable thing, because his performance is almost unrecognizable as acting. There is almost no emotion: it is all elocution. When he says the line, “That dogs bark at me as I halt by them” he says it as if he were Sweeney Todd in a melodrama. The only way to understand such a performance is to hear it as an aria. And as such it is interesting. But it tells us precious little about the character.

From this lecture, I know that the history of Shakespearean performance over the last 125 years has been one of moving away from this musical style of performance to our modern emotional style of performance. Based upon this, going backwards from 1888, we can assume that performances were even more musical, less emotionally nuanced. And thus, it is surprising to read William Hazlitt in 1814, describe the character in Mr. Kean’s Richard:

The restless and sanguinary Richard is not a man striving to be great, but to be greater than he is; conscious of his strength of will, his powers of intellect, his daring courage, his elevated station, and making use of these advantages, as giving him both the means and the pretext to commit unheard-of crimes, and to shield himself from remorse and infamy.

I agree with all that Hazlitt writes here, but somehow his impressive intellect and erudition seem to fail him in that he misses the one thing that most defines Richard: his anger—at the universe for making him deformed, and everyone in it for not sharing his deficiencies. If Richard is not angry (and perhaps bored as well), I don’t see what the whole play is about.

Laurence Olivier

Here is Laurence Olivier doing Richard the way I see him: angry. Beneath every line is rage and I am right there with him. This is the best performance of Richard I’ve ever seen, even though it is far from the most emotional or human. It is from Olivier’s own star-studded filmed version in 1955. Note that Olivier has taken out the dreadful lines, “And if King Edward be as true and just / As I am subtle, false, and treacherous, / This day should Clarence closely be mew’d up— / About a prophecy which says that G / Of Edward’s heirs the murderer shall be.”

Heartbreak Productions

Here is an interesting take on Richard. According the person who posted it, “Heartbreak Productions Richard III summer 2002. Directed by Peter Mimmack. With Andrew Cullum as Richard III. Filmed at Kenilworth Castle.” He starts off very sarcastic, which I totally approve of, because sarcasm is just a veneer on anger. However, Cullum throws some self-pity in the second half of the speech that I’m not so sure of. Certainly it is a valid take on the character, but like so much of modern Shakespearean performance: a lot is created that just isn’t there in the text.

Kenneth Branagh

Branagh is very good as Richard, but in this scene, he plays it too much like the melodramatic villain. His barely suppressed anger is great, but he jumps so nimbly from it to an all too clear delight that I find it jarring.

Ian McKellen

The 1995 filmed version of Richard III is so stylized, that it is hard to know what to think of McKellen’s understated performance. He is clearly very pleased with himself, but somehow he manages to integrate this with his hatred and frustration so that it works. (It is unfair to do a comparison of a big budget film and basically a book on tape that Branagh was doing.)

Video Not Currently Available.

Just the same, it is hard to know if McKellen understands the speech at all, based upon the following clip. Yeah, we get it: “Sun of York” is a pun of “Son of York” and King Edward is the son of the Duke of York. But Richard does not mean these lines as stated: he would prefer it still be winter. I don’t mean to suggest that McKellen really doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Artists are almost always at their worst when they discuss their work. But one does get the impression that he thinks he is speaking to a child of limited intelligence:

There is no doubt that the more recent actors give Richard more depth. My question is whether that is really appropriate.

Kill Your Daughters

Planned ParenthoodAccording to MSNBC (and many other sources), “In a reversal of Susan G. Komen For the Cure’s funding cuts to Planned Parenthood, the founder and CEO of the nation’s largest breast-cancer advocacy agency said Friday that the group would amend the criteria that sparked a firestorm.”

Despite what Komen is saying, their original decision was part of a concerted effort to destroy Planned Parenthood. According to Newsday:

Komen has explained that the defunding decision was due to the foundation’s recently enacted policy to not fund organizations that are under investigation by local, state or federal authorities. That would disqualify Planned Parenthood, which is the subject of a congressional inquiry begun in September by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., to determine whether it has used federal money to fund abortions, which is forbidden by law.

What isn’t clear from this article is that Komen made its decision in December—after Stearns’ inquiry had started. So they knew exactly what they were doing.

And they know what they’re doing now. They’ve reversed themselves because of the huge backlash against them that was going to hurt donations to this primarily conservative, and clearly evil, group.

This can’t be said often enough: despite all their platitudes to the contrary, these people hate women—especially young and powerful women. Depriving them of healthcare is just a way of killing them by subtler means than death camps and marches. Kill you daughters![1]

Update

Ezra Klein has an excellent article about Komen’s turn around. He writes, in part:

Originally, Komen said Planned Parenthood was ineligible for grants because they were under congressional investigation. But they quickly abandoned that claim and moved to a more apolitical explanation: Planned Parenthood doesn’t directly provide mammography. “We have decided not to fund, wherever possible, pass-through grants,” said Nancy Brinker, president of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. “We were giving them money, they were sending women out for mammograms.”

If Komen had initially argued that they would no longer fund organizations that didn’t directly provide mammograms, they would, perhaps, have had an easier time explaining their decision. Of course, that might have meant defunding a much larger swath of organizations. It also would have meant changing their recommendations to women.

The likelier explanation, as Kate Sheppard has persuasively argued, is that the shifting rationales behind Komen’s decision imply that the decision to defund Planned Parenthood was based on either political or ideological considerations regarding abortion. But because many of Komen’s funders are pro-choice, it couldn’t be described that way. Hence the hunt for alternative justifications, and the eventual apology and putative reversal.

The core of Kate Sheppard’s argument is the following list:

  • Anti-abortion groups leading the campaign against Komen’s Planned Parenthood funding may have been tipped off to the decision well before it was public.
  • The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg reported that the decision was about abortion and that Handel was involved. The story has not been corrected or retracted.
  • Komen did not cancel a grant to Pennsylvania State University despite the university being the target of a federal investigation, which was the original reason Komen cited for ending the Planned Parenthood grant.
  • Anti-abortion groups are also declaring victory in their parallel attempts to pressure Komen on embryonic stem cell research, another hot-button issue. Anti-abortion groups have targeted Komen for providing funding to any medical institution that also conducts that type of research (even if Komen isn’t directly funding it). A few weeks ago, Texas Right to Life flagged a Komen press release from late November explicitly stating that they don’t support research that involves “destroying a human embryo” and have never funded that type of research. Both Life News and the National Catholic Register noted the Komen release on Wednesday evening, and Life News reported further that Komen appears to have also ended grants to institutions that conducts embryonic stem cell research. The link to the press release on the Komen site is dead now, and the press release is no longer posted in their media section. The organization did not respond immediately to a request for comment on whether they’ve changed their policy on this topic as well.

[1] Here’s Lou Reed, writing about how the good people tried to help him with electroshock therapy in the song Kill Your Sons:

All your two-bit psychiatrists
are giving you electroshock
They said, they’d let you live at home with mom and dad
instead of mental hospitals
But every time you tried to read a book
you couldn’t get to page 17
‘Cause you forgot where you were
so you couldn’t even read

Don’t you know they’re gonna kill your sons

Here’s the song:

Keep on Truckin’

I was on a highway today and saw the only giant, fuel-guzzling, fume-spewing truck that makes me smile. I’ve seen Kane trucks before, but I’ve been unable to get a photo for fear of driving into the guardrail. After a brief search I found one[1] that’s close.

The one’s I’ve seen have been slightly different and read: BE KIND, BE CAREFUL, BE YOURSELF — KANE is able!

The bizarre play off a particularly gruesome Bible story is oddly amusing, but it’s the unexpected encouragement that I enjoy so much. Random and refreshing. And the thing is, there is absolutely no commercial reason for it! Most companies use their trucks as moving billboards, advertising their own products or services. Kane Trucking uses the backs of theirs just to be friendly.

I suppose it’s a sad statement about our society (or me) that I’m grateful for a simple thoughtful expression printed on the back of a truck.


[1] Thanks to Hank’s Web Site, a celebration of big rigs, for the photo.

Why I Like Romney

Gingrich/RomneyI remember the 1980 presidential election. I remember that liberal-minded people were thrilled that the Republicans had nominated Ronald Reagan. And then he won, and the United States has been on a constant ride to more inequality that I fear eventually leads to some form of neo-fascism (admittedly, pro-Isreal fascism).

So I haven’t been too excited with the prospect of Newt Gingrich getting the Republican nomination. It just stinks too much of 1980. What really bothers me is the Teflon issue. Reagan was called the “Teflon President” because nothing ever stuck to him. The most obvious case was the Iran-Contra Affair where Reagan’s actions were treasonous.[1] Newt Gingrich seems to have the same Teflon coating.

Gingrich has terrible things in his past. And yet: no one cares. That’s all in the past. That was all before he found God. Except… that he was raised Lutheran. Publicly, he has always claimed to be a good Christian. Why should we believe him now? Or more to the point: why should Christians believe him now?

I think the answer is clear. Conservative Christians believe Gingrich now because he is saying what they want to hear. And this has nothing to do with religion. What they want to hear is that abortion is bad, war is good, and the United States is “special.”

It is a common liberal complaint that Jesus was very often talking about the poor, but most Christians in America are only interested in making woman carry their pregnancies to term. But the situation is much worse than this. In general, Christians (the conservative ones and those are the majority of the serious ones) don’t give a damn about the poor. In fact, I think that’s why the abortion (And birth control!) issue resonates so well for them: it is another way to keep the poor down. And they hate women, of course.

So I see Newt being a very dangerous candidate. When enough people say that it is unfair to talk about the man’s long and varied history of personal and private corruption, the media will pick up on it. They will make it so it can’t be talked about. And then, you’re living in Newt’s world.

Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is a terrible candidate. I think that Obama will eat them alive at the debates. I think the campaign will be able to tar Romney as a vulture capitalist, if Romney hasn’t done it for them by the general election.

So I like Romney!


[1] Of course, two Republican presidents after him also committed treason, so what’s the big deal? Bush Sr. was even more involved in Iran-Contra than Reagan. And Bush Jr. had that little Social Security Privatization (Sorry: Personalization!) Tour where he repeatedly questioned the full faith and credit of the nation he was nominally leading. Oh! And Clinton got a blow job: impeach that man!