A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Double, Double, Toil and Trouble


Two impish sprints appeared on my doorway a few minutes ago, lured by an illuminated ghost we had placed on our stoop. Their parents hovered in the background. The sprightly imps sang a threatening song for me and my charmed Japanese wife. We gave them extremely sugary candy. Thus paganism endures in a largely Christian (I speak of North Carolina, if not America as a whole) society.

The witches in Macbeth knew a few things about trick-or-treating that my neighborhood kids have thankfully forgotten (aroint thee means get lost; a rump-fed runnion means a garbage eating hag):

Witch I: "A sailor's wife had chestnuts in her lap,
And munched and munched and munched.
'Give me,' quoth I.
'Aroint thee, witch!' the rump-fed runnion cries.
Her husband's to Aleppo gone, master o' the Tiger,
But in a sieve I'll thither sail,
And like a rat without a tail,
I'll do, I'll do, and I'll do."

The lady should have given the witch a few of her chestnuts. Now her husband, captaining a ship in distant seas, is going to be seduced repeatedly by a deformed (like a rat without a tail) apparition.

The distinction between godly religion and paganism is not between mono- and poly- as to theism. The pagan Greeks and Romans weren't as polytheistic as we imagine; they acknowledged a unitary force behind the distracted and adolescent three-ring circus playing around on Mount Olympus. The true difference between our religion and theirs is not between many and one but between (A) asking G-d or the gods, and (B) trying to order them around.

In Macbeth, though, the pagan witches more coerce Macbeth than otherwise, laying in wait for him until after his triumphant battle, when his ambition might be appealed to:

WI: "When will we three meet again?
In thunder, lightening or in rain?

WII: "When the hurlyburly's done,
When the battle's lost and won…"
WIII: "There to meet with Macbeth."

In Shakespeare's vision of paganism, oddly, it is the spirits and not the humans who are doing the incantations. The original Old Europe witch hunts in the Middle Ages must have in reality resembled a kind of KKK-style lynching of old spinsters living in the woods, touched off by famine or sexual jealousy. Describing our later, tamer American version of witchcraft, Arthur Miller in The Crucible gave us some all-too-human adolescent girls playing at spells with their slave servant Tituba. Shakespeare cuts through the games and gives us real non-human witches:

"Round about the cauldron go;
In the poisoned entrails throw.
Double, Double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog.
Adder's fork and blindworm's sting.
Lizard's leg and owlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble."

The magic pot will be used when Macbeth visits them, in fact revisits them, seeking further fortune-telling. The witches will pull an armed head, a bloody child and a crowned child out of the pot to make various points about Macbeth's future.

The reason that it's the witches and not the humans casting spells is that Macbeth isn't really about paganism – or religion for that matter. It's about Macbeth and his wife. The witches could be replaced by anything from a rabbit's foot to a strange number "2" seen by satellite photograph in the center of a hurricane. It's Macbeth's credulity and his wife's ambition that make the difference. With Shakespeare the focus is always on us.

Shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Harry Potter, by having the humans do the incantations and spells, and attempt to order the gods to do their bidding, are more in the paganism business than Shakespeare. Charming as those shows can be, it's well to remember that paganism – at its heart superstitious and based on power over others rather than ethics or love – has only recently been challenged in the West by Judeo-Christianity, the revolution of spirit under which we are supposed to do His bidding. (Non-Western civilizations, by the way, have evolved their concepts of ethics and love in a separate manner; the pagan - non-pagan dichotomy doesn't apply, or applies much differently, for these different civilizations). For the West, though, this spiritual revolution informs us that you can ask, but you can only ask. You can't force, and you certainly can't threaten.

"Trick or Treat!"

Happy Halloween!

The Purpose of Bardseyeview

Bardseyeview is a blog which looks at the events and people of today through the prism of Shakespeare's poetry and thought.

The idea for Bardseye occurred to me during a trip to Scotland, when the train my wife and I were traveling on stopped at a station and I looked up and saw a sign saying, "Burnam." Of course this was the Burnam Shakespeare uses in Macbeth, whose woods the Witches promise will move to Dunsinane before Macbeth will become vulnerable to his enemies.

I had begun a more personal blog a month before, and had enjoyed emptying my soul onto the internet until, after about a month of writing, I realized that my soul had been thoroughly emptied. The sign for Burnam sent me in a welcome direction. With Shakespeare, there are no worries about running out, and more to the point, I have a chance to present to readers the beauty, power and relevance of western civilization's central writer.

Because Bardseye is a blog, my personal opinions are included. I think the last thing we should do with our greatest minds is to put them up on a shelf marked "For Aesthetic Use Only – Do not Use to Engage or Persuade." Plus it's a blog, one voice out of millions. If you feel I'm hijacking Shakespeare, I invite you to hijack him right back. He is our common property, after all. As in a sense we are his.

Bardseye is intended for all who are interested, but I feel a specific desire to make it accessible to students and to those adult readers - including non-native English speakers - who may have missed their first opportunity to connect themselves to Shakespeare. If you are such a reader, you may now find a daily dose of plot explanation, excerpted poetry, historical background and thoughtful meditation on Shakespeare's meaning a pleasant and gentle way to cozy up to the Bard.

Again, for new readers of Shakespeare, I suspect that after one or two years of visiting Bardseyeview, you will be familiar with the story lines, characters and ideas of Shakespeare's plays. More importantly, you will begin to break through the grammatical barriers (which are real but not overwhelming; these difficulties fall away naturally with time and exposure), and will encounter the transforming experience that reading Shakespeare uniquely provides.


And P.S. If you enjoy bardseyeview and find yourself a regular reader, please do consider letting others know. My own gratification comes only from knowing that readers are out there, throughout the Theater of the Globe, absorbing Shakespeare.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Coriolanus and the Bankrupt Airlines


My wife and I recently flew to Scotland for vacation on one of the many airlines currently facing bankruptcy. The amenities we had in not too distant years grown accustomed to – in-flight movies, palatable meals, free headsets, magazines and newspapers - had been reduced or abandoned. But the equally abandoned look in the eyes of the stewardesses and stewards cautioned against complaint.

Menenius Agrippa, a friend of the Roman general Coriolanus, spoke for the airline management when he addressed the citizens of Rome in Act I (patricians means aristocrats; dearth means famine):

"I tell you, friends, most charitable care
Have the patricians of you. For your wants,
Your suffering in this dearth, you may as well
Strike at the heaven with your staves as lift them
Against the Roman state….Alack,
You are transported by calamity
Thither where more attends you, and you slander
The helms o' the state, who care for you like fathers,"

Labor and management, governed and governors, masses and classes. The American vision denies these distinctions in principle, emphasizing the mobility that allows the members of the working class, through education and hard work, to enter and refresh the presumably not always as hard working upper class. It is preferable to the sort of eternal class consciousness my wife and I saw on our trip to Scotland.

But the system does depend on the failed members of the upper classes surrendering their seats to the more adaptive, rising members of the proletariat. A First Citizen answers Menenius in a way that could as easily refer to how Congress has recently tightened the rules for personal bankruptcy while leaving corporate bankruptcy rules loose:

"Care for us? True indeed! They ne'er cared for
us yet. Suffer us to famish, and their store-houses
crammed with grain; make edicts for usury to
support usurers; repeal daily any wholesome act
established against the rich; and provide more
piercing statutes daily to chain up and restrain
the poor."

A now well-known winding road has brought airline stewardesses and stewards to this insecure modern condition shared by the Roman rabble imagined by the Elizabethan-era Shakespeare. This road first followed the twists and turns of a prior prosperity that encouraged over-generous worker benefits, coercive and parasitic union demands and managerial inefficiency. The road then ran into a brief, sharp recession and the coup de grace of an airborne terror attack. It makes it hard to fix blame on whichever particular stewardess has forgotten your decaf refill.

And not only airlines but auto makers, led by the massive bankruptcy two weeks ago of parts maker Delphi and very possibly to be followed by GM itself, are peering into the crystal ball of bankruptcy to save not only their companies but their own managerial jobs. Time was when a bankrupt firm's management was turned out of the door; now with Chapter 11 they either stay in office or glide gracefully out the window with a golden parachute. Is this an abandonment by management? Here's Coriolanus in a speech where he abandons with contempt the people of his native Rome (plumes refers to a portion of their enemies' uniforms):

"…I banish you!
And here remain with your uncertainty!
Let every feeble rumor shake your hearts!
Your enemies, with nodding of their plumes,
Fan you into despair! Have the power still
To banish your defenders, till at length
Your ignorance…deliver you as most
Abated captives to some nation
That won you without blows!..."

Well, ok, I don't automatically assume these are the private thoughts of a stricken airline or auto executive. You'd need to take "Your ignorance" for the union's refusal to accept lower wages and benefits in order to avoid bankruptcy. And "some nation" would mean some foreign competitor who would offer the workers even less loyalty, if that's possible. To win you "without blows," of course, means getting to buy the bits and pieces of the bankrupt company at firesale prices.

Ultimately a treasonous Coriolanus takes up arms for the barbarian enemies of Rome. In a global economy, such treason probably equates less to aiding foreign competitors than to actions which lead to economic collapse for all. Mismanagement of a great company would qualify, but then so would worker intransigence in labor negotiation. And so too would government mismanagement of our trading position, fiscal policy and money supply. I'm sure when the time comes there'll be plenty of blame to go around.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Hamlet and the TV Presidency

I'll leave it to actors to decide if Hamlet was a good director. If you were preparing to go on stage, would the following help? (had as leif means I'd rather; robustious means boisterous; periwig-pated means bewigged):

"Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to
you, trippingly on the tongue. But if you mouth it, as
many of our players do, I had as leif the town crier
spoke my lines. More do not saw the air too much
with your hand, thus, but use all gently; for in the very
torrent, tempest, and, as I may say, whirlwind of your
passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that
may give it smoothness. O, it offends me to the soul
to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a
passion to tatters, to very rags, to split the ears…".

Hamlet is of course staging a play, actually inserting a few key lines in a scene a traveling troupe will play for the king. Hamlet's ultimate motive is to see if the added scene, depicting regicide, will cause the King to blanch with guilt, confirming Hamlet's suspicion that the King is guilty of killing the former King, Hamlet's father.

We kill kings now by election, in a quadrennial polling booth ritual of coronation, re-coronation or forced abdication. In between there is little we can do to direct our governments beyond sending emails. Some of us, though, finding ourselves in Hamlet's position, with a theater troupe or movie or television studio at their command, feel we can do more.

The West Wing, a longstanding television series, depicts an alternate universe President whose actions represent a sort of left-wing critique or substitution of whatever the actual President may be doing. The fictional President Bartlett, for example, will respond to acts of militant Islamic terrorism by anguishing over which diplomat needs to be sent to the affected region. This seems more peaceful and soothing to the television audience than the sort of real action that takes lives and costs lives, and changes history. A little fantasy hour where such painful realities need not be faced may help us recover the renewed strength to face them.

President Clinton's ethereal presence haunts The West Wing as well, appearing like the ghost of Hamlet's father in such things as President Bartlett's multiple sclerosis. Out of human weakness and ambition Bartlett hid this ailment from the nation during his campaign. This disease is intended as a substitute for Clinton's sexual promiscuity, with the suggestion that both are similarly involuntary. Not exactly an analogy that respects the idea of respecting women.

But you can't blame the citizen show-makers for trying. One trip to the voting booth every four years (for President) is frustrating for all of us. If they continue to think they can do something more, let them knock themselves out. In a speech he makes to Hamlet, the Player King presents his own view on such attempts to interfere in events beyond one's allotted role:

"But, orderly to end, where I begun,
Our wills and fates do so contrary run
That our devices still are overthrown;
Our thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own."

When entertainers compromise their profession – entertainment – in order to persuade people to hold certain opinions or vote a certain way, the audience notices, and resents it. The result, over time (in my own openly acknowledged opinion) can be a reaction against the attempted manipulation. Our fates and wills run in such contrary ways that the manipulators' devices are indeed overthrown. The end results are none of what they intended.

This year's new Presidency show, Commander in Chief, presents a woman president, presumably in anticipation of a Hillary Clinton administration. Her response to a domestic decision within Nigeria to execute a woman for adultery in accordance with sharia law is to threaten the ambassador with invasion. And so Hillary compensates at last, in the realm of women's rights, for publicly enabling her husband's infidelities.

"Our thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own."
P. S. Here's a related post from the recommendable Politicalteen.

Friday, October 28, 2005

All's Well That's Stem Cell


In Act II of All's Well That Ends Well, the King is on his deathbed with all hope abandoned by his court physicians when in walks a commoner named Helena. She is the surviving daughter of the court physician of a neighboring court, and she tells the King of her inheritance (On's means on his):

"…On's bed of death
Many receipts he gave me, chiefly one
Which, as the dearest issue of his practice,
And of his old experience th' only darling,
He bade me store up as a triple eye
Safer than mine own two, more dear…"

Helena has come into the possession of a medical miracle, a treatment for just what happens to ail the King (touched means ill; tender means offer; appliance means technique):

"And, hearing Your High Majesty is touched
With that malignant cause wherein the honor
Of my dear father's gift stands chief in power,
I come to tender it and my appliance
With all bound humbleness."

We are not short of medical miracles today that could stand in for the "triple eye" that Helena offers the King. The eerie image of a triple eye, though, suggesting something even more valuable than Helena's own eyes, evokes the most advanced of science's intrusions into nature, such as artificial hearts or embryonic stem cells, the individual DNA of an unborn man or woman, whose use in medicine is now the subject of ethical anxiety and discussion. An anxiety the King seems to share (credulous means gullible or believing):

"We thank you maiden,
But may not be so credulous of cure
When our most learned doctors leave us and
The congregated college have concluded
That laboring art can never ransom nature
From her inaidible estate…."

Another modern question pops out from Shakespeare. We are asking this question still, or more to the point are surprised to find that he was already asking it: Can laboring art never ransom nature from her inaidible estate?

With longevity and good health ascendant, our answer is more optimistic for the moment, even as there lurks at the margin of our awareness a Hitchcockian flock of avian-flu-infested fowl, slowly flapping its way around the globe, the scourge of AIDS, the latest antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Nature indeed that laboring art can never ransom from her unaidible estate. The King continues (empirics means experiment; dissever means sever; deem means declare):

"…I say we must not
So stain our judgment, or corrupt our hope,
To prostitute our past-cure malady
To empirics, or to dissever so
Our great self and our credit, to esteem
A senseless help when help past sense we deem."

The King has led a dignified life and wishes to face death with the same dignity. He fears that pursuing so untried a remedy, such a quack-like, snake-oil miracle cure, in the face of the learned judgment of his advisors, would be unseemly. And indeed how many thousands of families around the globe each day face the same end of life collision of medical technology, hope for renewed life, and acceptance of the inevitability of death? Nobody wants to die, but if we must, we certainly also don't want to "sever our great self and our credit," our character.

But Helena has not exactly given up. First, while pretending to accept his denial (he's a king after all), she gently scolds her majesty, comparing him to the Pharaoh that mixed it up with Moses:

"…great seas have dried
When miracles have by the great'st been denied."

The King essentially plugs his ears. When she presses on, he challenges her to ransom something of her own against the possibility of failure. She offers, actually, to be tortured if she is unable to cure him. We mere citizen patients of today might believe that we are not in the same position to require such a warranty from our physicians.

Medical malpractice attorneys might disagree.

As it is, we ourselves are still in the midst of working out the deal we wish to make with medical science over the extension of life and its ending. In the meantime, I will conclude with what the King tells Helena about the deal she has struck with him:

"Methinks in thee some blessed spirit does speak
His powerful sound within an organ weak;
Sweet minister, thy physic I will try,
That ministers thine own death if I die."

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Sonnets on Demi and Ashton

Let's see what light Shakespeare's sonnets can shed on the very public relationship of Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore.

As many of us are unwillingly aware, Demi Moore is a fading Hollywood actress of enduring energy and ambition. Her husband is a young man named Ashton Kutcher. Mr. Kutcher has his own hit television show, Punk'd, based on the playing of practical jokes upon people of minor celebrity, accompanied by his own marginal film career (his breakout role was as Jesse Montgomery III in the movie Dude, Where's My Car?). Demi and Ashton met in April, 2003:

"…Three winters cold
Have from the forests shook three summers' pride,
Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turned
In process of the seasons have I seen,
Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burned,
Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green."

The couple teeters on the edge of the spotlight of respected celebrity (in whose charmed circle Ms. Moore once stood beside her fame-burnished ex-husband Bruce Willis), while enjoying a parallel spotlight of tabloid celebrity that in many ways burns brighter. Mr. Kutcher was voted #1 on Teen People's list of the most powerful young people in Hollywood. His wife, though, would not have been an eligible candidate. She is fifteen years his senior, sixteen for the months between her birthday in November and his in February:

"When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls all silvered o'er with white…"

Perhaps that is unfair. The love Mr. and Mrs. Kutcher feel for each other is something we on the outside must not attempt to judge, even as the couple invite us to speculate upon it. It is thus not for us to know whether, by capturing Mr. Kutcher's youthful passion, Ms. Moore will be able to extend his affections into her own old age. And while appearance often plays a role in the birth of romance, it is wise to recall that the mating of souls is the true business of love:

"To me, fair friend, thou never can be old,
For, as you were when first your eye I eyed,
Such seems your beauty still…."

The Kutchers' marriage thus remains a private matter between the two lovers. True, Mr. and Mrs. Kutcher sold their wedding photos to OK magazine, and there was a dispute over whether they reneged on a promise to forward the fee to charity ("Kutcher and Demi Moore have lashed out at reports they failed to fulfill a donation promise to a charity, insisting where they choose to give their wedding photo fee is no one's business") (Dwellers means people who suck up to; Pitiful...spent means people who thrive on a pitiful ambition, and spend or exhaust everything in longing for whatever they're longing for):

"Have I not seen dwellers on form and favor
Lose all, and more, by paying too much rent,
For compound sweet forgoing simple savor,
Pitiful thrivers, in their gazing spent?"

But again, why judge?

In those decades when she was cast in the lead in such feature films as Ghost, Disclosure and G.I. Jane (all prelude to her most recent performance in Fright Pack: Man's Worst Friends) Mrs. Kutcher, or Ms. Moore, was famous for her assertiveness in salary negotiations, at one point nicknamed "Gimme Moore." Well, it can be no easy thing to be so lavishly praised and applauded in one decade, only to find one's audience distracted by other, fresher faces in the next. Meanwhile it is doubtful that anyone would inquire deeply into the age of Bruce Willis' current girlfriend or wife. So should we be all the more consoled to learn that she has found a true and enduring love at this vulnerable moment (stars means fortune; Whilst I...honor most means while I, barred by fortune from such public triumph, take unnoticed joy in what I honor the most...):

"Let those who are in favor with their stars
Of public honor and proud titles boast,
Whilst I, whom fortune of such triumph bars,
Unlooked for joy in that I honor most."

"That I honor most," of course, being her Mr. Kutcher. Well, I come neither to praise Ms. Moore nor to bury her, but just to have a little fun on a Thursday evening. And on reflection, perhaps tonight I had better direct some of Shakespeare's advice less on the Kutchers and more toward myself:

"They that have power to hurt and will do none,
That do not do the thing they most do show,
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,
Unmoved, cold, and to temptation slow,
They rightly do inherit heaven's graces…."

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Timon of Athens and the Budget

Like the US government, Timon of Athens is generous with the rich flow of funds at his disposal. He likes nothing more than to help his friends, including Ventidius, imprisoned for debt:

"…I do know him
A gentleman that well deserves a help,
Which he shall have. I'll pay the debt…."

And the daughter of an old Athenian who lacks a dowry:

"This gentleman of mine has served me long;
To build his fortune I will strain a little,
For 'tis a bond in men. Give him thy daughter.
What you bestow, in him I'll counterpoise,
And make him weigh with her."

This summer Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, wiping out (the verb is not an exaggeration) much of New Orleans. The expected price for recovery, assuming a lasting recovery can be accomplished with levees that now appear to have been defective in design, begins at $200 billion.

Beyond the gulf coast is the second gulf war and the ongoing burden of assuming the defense of the free world in the absence of continental European allies willing to contribute as much, and behind that the trillion or so in losses endured by the 9/11 attacks. In the midst of this, congress elected to pass a highway bill containing nearly 6500 payouts individually requested by legislators for their districts, and totaling $24 billion, 10% of the total bill. Timon gives these lawmakers voice:

"Thou'rt an Athenian, therefore welcome…
Prithee, let my meat make thee silent."

Last year President Bush proposed adding drug coverage to Medicare, reasoning reasonably that the original program predated the pharmaceutical revolution. His intention was to extend the coverage in exchange for changes in Medicare's financial structure to make it more responsive to market forces. The added coverage was passed into law. The financial restructuring was not.

Timon, too, lets his friends off the hook, even when they offer to repay him. Here is our grateful former debtor Venidius greeting Timon (Faults that are rich are fair means faults committed by the rich may be excused by their wealth):

"Most honored Timon,
It hath pleased the gods to remember my father's age
And call him to long peace.
He is happy gone and has left me rich.
Then, as in grateful virtue I am bound
To your free heart, I do return those talents,
Doubled with thanks and service, from whose help
I derived liberty."

Timon: "O by now means,
Honest Ventidius. You mistake my love.
I gave it freely ever, and there's none
Can truly say he gives if he receives.
If our betters play at that game, we must not dare
To imitate them. Faults that are rich are fair."

After Katrina hit, President Bush suspended a law that would have expensively provided a wage premium above market wages for workers involved in the hurricane recovery. But just today he changed his mind and reapplied the law.

Faults that are rich are fair.

He also appointed Ben Bernanke to replace Alan Greenspan at the Federal Reserve. Bernanke is known in financial circles for a speech he gave assuring us that deflation, lower prices, could not return because the Fed had at its disposal a money-printing machine, and could if necessary for the economy dispense money "from helicopters." That sort of printing was done in Germany in the early 1920's and led to Brazilian-style hyper inflation, the kind that wipes out the real value of your life savings in a few weeks.

Pri'thee, let my meat make you silent.

In the end (actually as soon as Act II), Timon loses all his money, as Germany did, and none of his friends help him. Flavius, an honest servant, delivers the bad news to President Bush and the American people:

"O good my lord,
At many times I brought in my accounts,
Laid them before you. You would throw them off.

Though you hear now too late, yet now's a time;
The greatest of your having lacks a half
To pay your present debts."

America has more going for it than Timon's household did, and our Act II may differ from his in offering no more than a tough recession. You never know, though, and it's worth noting that Timon's Acts III through V involved madness, moral collapse and war. Well, I should have known a post using Timon of Athens would lead to a dark closing.

I think I'll go fishing in the comedies for tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Richard II and George Galloway


Like Richard II, George Galloway has a flair for the self-dramatic.

Galloway is a member of the British parliament and long-standing apologist for Saddam Hussein who, it is clear to any thoughtful person familiar with him, accepted oil-for-food money from Saddam. To think otherwise at this late date would represent an exercise in keeping one's mind so open that one's brain falls out. The money was intended for those who were suffering under Saddam's regime, and was doubtless offered to Mr. Galloway either in exchange for or in appreciation for his services as that regime's loud apologist. King Richard II:

"And for these great affairs do ask some charge:
Towards our assistance we do seize to us
The plate, coin, revenues, and movables,
Whereof our uncle Gaunt did stand possess'd."

For years Mr. Galloway had the world at his command. A princely podium from which to amplify Saddam's arguments and at his back the UN and an Arab Islamic world united in opposition to the West. Fat times proceeded, but they were ultimately to be followed by lean. The Americans, aided by his own British army, at last rolled into Baghdad after twelve lost years that approximated Moses' lost forty, and the coalition behind Galloway began to fall away:

"What is become of Bushy, where is Green?
That they have let the dangerous enemy
Measure out our confines with such peaceful steps?
If we prevail, their heads shall pay for it:"

That 'Bushy' is a bonus. Let's take it as a reference to the first president Bush, who hesitated at the brink of Baghdad, but who can't help Galloway now. And as if that weren't enough, how much more galling for Galloway to see the slow steady progress of a civil Iraq, Shia, Sunni and Kurd, a nation forming itself even under the storm of terror:

K. Rich: "I warrant they have made peace with Bolingbroke."

Scroop: "Peace have they made with him, my lord."

Mr. Galloway was recently invited to testify in front of a US congressional committee, under oath, about his involvement in the criminal diversion of the oil-for-food money. At the time his performance was considered a rhetorical success and a matter of some chagrin for the legislators who interrogated him. The art of public speaking has long since withered here in America, and our stolid, mush-mouthed, pork-delivering congressional hacks were no match for Mr. Galloway's silver tongue.

"And thou a lunatic lean witted fool,
Presuming on an ague's privilege,
Dar'st with thy frozen admonition
Make pale our cheek, chasing the royal blood
With fury from the native residence…"

So it was a matter of some comfort to discover that hard evidence has now been assembled that flatly contradicts the admissions Mr. Galloway made under oath. Mr. Galloway is now self-dramatically challenging the Americans to indict him:

"Give me the glass, and therein will I read, -
No deeper wrinkles yet? Hath sorrow struck
So many blows upon this face of mine,
And made no deeper wounds? – O flattering glass,
Like to my followers in prosperity,
Thou dost beguile me."

There are certain public figures who display such infamy, and such psychotic unawareness of it, as to invite decent men to look away from them in daylight. Michael Jackson is probably America's great contribution, though murderers like Scott Peterson and O.J. Simpson may trump a mere molester the way a flush beats a straight. Galloway, Saddam's and perhaps also Richard II's soul mate, seems to be another.

Discipline, Measure for Measure


The Duke in Measure for Measure is wise, indeed wise enough to understand his own failings. As he confesses to Friar Thomas, he has always been a little withdrawn, preferring cloistered study to the company of others, and has delegated much of his authority to the rigidly upright Lord Deputy Angelo:

"My holy sir, none better knows than you
How I have ever loved the life removed,
And held idle price to haunt assemblies
Where youth, and cost, and witless bravery keeps,
I have delivered to Lord Angelo, -
A man of stricture and firm abstinence, -
My absolute power and place here in Vienna…"

If you want a job done right, give it to someone else. The Duke at least knows that his city of Vienna has a problem:

"We have strict statutes and most biting laws, -
The needful bits and curbs for headstrong steeds, -
Which for these fourteen years we have let sleep,
Even like an o'ergrown lion in a cave,
That goes not out to prey…"

Shakespeare has chosen for his setting Vienna, a cold place in central Europe, far from his often preferred Italy. What's going on in central Europe? The Protestant Reformation, of course, ignited by the fervor of Calvin and Luther, which has reached England in a diluted, acceptably English form of Anglicanism through Henry VIII, the father of Shakespeare's Queen Elizabeth. Shakespeare has his eye on the undiluted form. The play deals with religious extremism, expressed here in over-strict law. Laws designed to curb headstrong human steeds, even if under the Duke they were ignored, and with predictable results:

"…Now, as fond fathers,
Having bound up the threat'ning twigs of birch,
Only to stick it in their children's sight
For terror, not to use, in time the rod
Becomes more mocked than feared: so our decrees,
Dead to infliction, to themselves are dead;
And liberty plucks justice by the nose;
The baby beats the nurse, and quite athwart
Goes all decorum."

Something like Ft. Lauderdale on spring break, with the shopkeepers pleading with the cops not to crack down. But the Duke has decided to bring a new sheriff into town, Angelo. But Friar Thomas objects (sith means since):

Fri: "…It rested in your grace
To unloose this tied-up justice when you pleased:
And it in you more dreadful would have seem'd
Than in Lord Angelo."

Duke: "I do fear, too dreadful:
Sith 'twas my fault to give the people scope,
'Twould be my tyranny to strike and gall them
For what I bid them do."

Once your children (or students) get the run of the place, reining them in is no easy thing. That's why the Duke, like many parents and not a few teachers, looks to outside help in enforcing his rules. But you can't lay the problem off on a few doses of Ritalin or a visit to the principal, Child Services or the police. In Judaism (digression!), a parent is considered to delegate his child's religious education to the rabbi. Rabbis will teach as they please of course, but it is still considered the parent's responsibility to oversee his child's education and, as occasionally happens if the parent has a serious objection, switch rabbis (usually requiring a switch in synagogues as well).

The Duke has similar Jewish instincts. Because the Duke knows final authority must rest with him and cannot be relinquished, he is in fact not going to Poland at all. He's planning to stick around and watch Angelo. While he admires Angelo, he suspects him of seeking more to retain his own virtue than to foster virtue among others. That's the real reason he's talking to the friar:

"Supply me with the habit, and instruct me
How I may formally in person bear me
Like a true friar."

In a leader, even virtue, goodness, is not enough, if it is not accompanied by the desire to move others in the same direction. There needs no ghost or blogger come from the grave to tell you this of course, but Shakespeare is particularly memorable in the way he says it, in an earlier speech that the Duke addresses directly to Child Services – I mean to Angelo. Here Shakespeare assesses the true nature of coercive authority, dedicated to virtue but separated from humanity (so proper as to waste means so completely as to justify your wasting):

"…Thyself and thy belongings
Are not thine own so proper as to waste
Thyself upon thy virtues, they on thee.
Heaven doth with us as we with torches do.
Not light them for themselves; for if our virtues
Did not go forth of us, 'twere all alike
As if we had them not."

That seems to be why parents parent and why bloggers blog.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Hamlet, Fortenbras and the Border


We face on our border with Mexico much of what Hamlet's royal family faced with Norway.

Borders are never easy to maintain. The news reports following Katrina included a brief mention that our border guards had been pulled from the Mexican border to assist with the recovery. Congressional authorization for increased guard strength has only partially been executed by our president. Since he's from Texas, President Bush is undoubtedly familiar with the personal virtues of our Mexican neighbors – by all accounts hard-working, religious and family-oriented - and so he may be reluctant to force their removal. Presidente Fox of Mexico, and the Mexican nation at large, are certain to follow American policy closely, measuring options. After all, Mexico cannot look on so much territory which was once Mexican without a wistful sense of longing. A longing that Fortenbras, the young and headstrong leader of Norway, understood.

In Hamlet, Fortenbras seeks to reclaim the lands lost to Denmark in an earlier war, occurring before the play begins. King Claudius, Hamlet's uncle, step-father and king, summarizes:

"Now follows that you know, young Fortenbras,
Holding a weak supposal of our worth,
Or thinking by our late dear brother's death
Our state to be disjoint and out of frame,
Colleagued with the dream of his advantage,
He hath not failed to pester us with message,
Importing the surrender of those lands
Lost by his father…".

A weak supposal of our worth. For Fortenbras, let's substitute the broad stream of Mexican society as it regards our society from across a thin strip of neighborly fencing. Nor is there lacking the sense of resentment over lands thought taken and sought to be restored. Horatio explains Mexican, I mean Norwegian, sentiment in Act I, Scene I:

"…Our last king,
Whose image even but now appear'd to us,
Was, as you know, by Fortenbras of Norway,
Thereto pricked on by a most emulate pride,
Dar'd to the combat; in which our valiant Hamlet, -
For so this side of our known world esteem'd him, -
Did slay this Fortenbras;"

It's easy to forget that Hamlet's father killed Fortenbras' father in a prior war. It's easy to forget how the swath of land from Texas to California was once listed on maps as part of Mexico. And it's easy to forget that no matter how virtuous individual Mexicans may be, they remain saturated in a broad culture of poverty and corruption that we cannot expect them to leave behind as they import themselves into America, and that this culture has led them to a fully understandable desperation. Horatio explains:

"…Now sir, young Fortenbras,
of unimproved mettle hot and full,
Hath in the skirts of Norway, here and there,
Shark'd up a list of landless resolutes,
For food and diet, to some enterprise
That has a stomach in't..."

These "landless resolutes, for food and diet" travel thousands of miles to Denmark, I mean America, because their own government over centuries has preferred corruption to growth. These are the most ambitious and most misused of Mexicans, the ones paying graft rather than receiving it, the ones who would push for change within Mexico if they couldn't get out.

Even under Claudius, Denmark's response was better than ours. Horatio's speech about Norway is in answer to Marcellus' question about why he and Bernardo and Francisco have been assigned additional watch duties:

"Why this same strict and most observant watch,
So nightly toils the subject of the land…?"

Things break down later, of course. Denmark's government becomes distracted over domestic, indeed very domestic, concerns. Gertrude's fecklessness, Hamlet's doomed but good faith attempts to confirm his suspicions of his father's murder, the Miers nomination, the leaking of a possibly covert CIA agent's name. The list goes on.

Decades of distraction have opened portions, in fact all, of our country to essentially uncontrolled entry. Our past allegiance to the concept of assimilation, for ourselves and other new Americans, has been weakened by concepts of multi-culturalism. And even though our constitution does not require it, our laws generously permit the children of illegal immigrants automatic citizenship.

Our imaginations flee from the prospect of a Trail-of-Tears forced march back to Mexico. But what will the social reaction be during the next economic downturn, when the labor of these non-citizens becomes not only unneeded, but unwelcome? We are responsible today if we fail to avoid such a predictable reactionary surge before it happens.

Fortenbras found himself in charge at the end of the play, having sensed such weakness, represented by Hamlet's collapse of will:

"O that this too too solid flesh would melt
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew…"

That's not exactly leadership.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

So Foul and Fair a Day I Have Not Seen


Pro: "…Hast thou, spirit,
Performed to point the tempest that I bade thee?"

Ari: "To every article.
I boarded the king's ship; now on the beak,
Now in the waist, the deck, in every cabin,
I flamed amazement; Sometimes I'd divide,
And burn in many places; on the top-mast,
The yards, and bowsprit, would I flame distinctly,
Then meet and join; Jove's lightnings, the precursors
O' the dreadful thunder-claps, more momentary
And sight-out-running were not: The fire and cracks
Of sulphurous roaring, the most mighty Neptune
Seem'd to besiege, and make his bold waves tremble
Yea, his dread trident shake."

Prospero has ordered Ariel, a mildly supernatural sprite, to conjure up a tempest that will shipwreck a boatload of people with whom Prospero has, in Uma Thurman's Kill Bill phrase, unfinished business. Ariel describes transforming himself into lightning ("I flamed amazement"). Not even Jove's lightnings – precursors of Jove's thunderclaps, Shakespeare doesn't forget to precisely add – are quicker or more sight-out-running than Ariel's, Ariel boasts to his master. Ariel even brags that the conflagration he started besieged Neptune, making his bold waves tremble and his dread trident shake.

As if.

Shakespeare's ultimately harmless tempest is particularly soothing to retreat to in a season of real storms and conflagrations, far preferable to Katrina and to Wilma, Fred Flintstone's wife, who is currently aiming toward Florida with uncharacteristic temper.

Prospero arrived on the island twelve years before with his then three-year-old daughter Miranda, dispossessed from his dukedom. He had freed Ariel from a pine tree Ariel had been trapped into under a spell cast by Sycorax, Caliban's witch of a mother. With Ariel's magical help, and aided by some of his own, Prospero takes control of the island, subjugating the beastly Caliban and exacting a rather long spell of mandatory service from the innocent Ariel as well. Here's what Prospero tells Ariel whenever he complains:

"If thou more murmur'st I will rend an oak
And peg thee in his knotty entrails, till
Thou has howled away twelve winters."

Oak of course is harder than pine.

If fact everyone seems to be under one form of compulsion or another, imposed by someone else. Ferdinand, a young, noble member of the shipwrecked party, is effectively pressed into Miranda's service, as he assumes the burden of proving his love by performing an endless series of chores, (something bachelors falsely think will end upon marriage).

And so the weather, too, is compelled. Nature's fury is displayed, but its effects, unlike the effects of Katrina or of the recent and far more deadly Pakistan earthquake, are muted. We gain a false but helpful sense of control over what actually controls us. It may be just the cable news cycle and the lazy preference of news producers for easy video content that has elevated the weather to a constant crisis. But the appetite for the constant story of our overthrow by nature, here in Kobe, there in San Francisco, then in New Orleans, now in Pakistan, has always been there, waiting for the weather channel to appease it. Nature's revolt is the reality version of a horror show. By contrast, Prospero and Ariel perform pagan magic:

Pro: "But are they, Ariel, safe?"

Ari: "Not a hair perish'd;
On their sustaining garments not a blemish,
But fresher than before; and, as thou bad'st me,
In troops I have dispersed them 'bout the isle;"

In what vision do we see ourselves reconstituted, whole and in our prime, in ever-laundered fashion at the height of our personal style (on our sustaining garments not a blemish)? Shakespeare's taste of heaven offers a cool retreat from what we know to be the truth, the ruined districts of New Orleans, and the far graver loss of life among the motley riot of collapsed mud and unreinforced cement that skirts our imaginations in the remote mountain villages of Pakistan.

If only.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Shakeing a Speare at Syria


"...And then, the justice
In fair round belly, with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances."

The above is Jaques's characterization of judges, which is part of the seven stages of man speech from As You Like It. Shakespeare gives Jaques a jaded and world-weary tone to accompany a wisdom that is worn heavily, unleavened by any force of will. (Rosalind will scold him for this). We see in his judge a man prouder of his office than of how he performs it.

A real life judge, or at least a prosecutor standing somewhat in judgment, and who compares favorably to Jaques, is Detlev Mehlis, a German prosecutor working for the UN. Mehlis produced this week a bombshell report that squarely laid blame on the Syrian government for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri.

The clarity and directness of this report does Mr. Mehlis and I would even say his country credit. Germany has been waffly on terrorism, its leadership pandering until recently to a strain of reflexive anti-Americanism that operates like a bookmark for anti-semitism. Germany without adequate moral leadership remains a thing to fear.

And so I have to imagine that when the average German wakes up this morning and begins consuming his Bratwurst with the morning paper, he or she will twist between pride and confusion in seeing a German finger of accusation laid against the last remaining Baathist regime. It is to be remembered that Baathism - a school of pan-Arabist secular fascism - was a direct German export with roots dating back to WWII, the Big One. All the more poetic justice to see a German stand up on his hind legs and attack this vestigial evil, born of the worst of his ancestry.

Against this rare high moment for Germany, our own recent American opportunity to achieve justice fell a little flat. The 9/11 Commission Report, comprising a thick book which sold in the millions, grows further discredited with each passing revelation. Prohibitions on the sharing of information between intelligence agencies, which left useful intelligence to rot on the docks, went unremarked on in the report. And famously sitting on the commission was Jamie Gorelick, the person chiefly responsible for the prohibition:

"...I not deny
The jury passing on the prisoner's life
May in the sworn twelve have a thief, or two,
guiltier than him they try."

Angelo says this to Escalus in Measure for Measure, Shakespeare's critique of Calvinism, really of religious extremism. The key to Measure for Measure occurs when Angelo, lusting after Isabella, imprisons and places her brother under sentence of execution, to be commuted only if Isabella will surrender her virtue to him. Isabella is a good religious girl. She is confident her brother would prefer his own death to her dishonour. They meet in his jail cell.

Isa: "What says my brother?"
Cla: "Death is a fearful thing."
Isa: "And shamed life a hateful."
Cla: "Ay, but to die, and go we know not where,
To lie in cold obstruction and to rot....
Isa: "Alas! Alas!
Cla: "Sweet sister, let me live;"

It's a funny scene. But it occurs in the sort of Saddamian/Hitlerian world from which justice has been banished.

Contrast this to a good and wise judge, such as the Prince in Romeo and Juliet, as he scolds the Montagues and Capulets in Act One. True, his brand of justice doesn't halt the tragic folly that leads the two families to lose the flower of their youth, but the Prince does get their attention, and a change of heart of all concerned, in the end. I'm hopeful that the dignified demeanor of the judge now running Saddam's trial will fall within the Prince's model (and remember to say moo-ved when you read moved; it's more Elizabethan that way):

"....From those bloody hands
Throw your mistempered weapons to the ground,
And hear the sentence of your moved Prince -
Three civil brawls, bred of an airy word,
By thee old capulet and Montague,
Have thrice disturb'd the quiet of our streets;
And made Verona's ancient citizens
Cast by their grave beseeming ornaments,
To wield old partisans in hands as old.
canker'd with peace, to part your canker'd hate;
If ever you disturb our streets again,
Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace."

The Prince nails down his argument by referring to how the feud is affecting the rest of Verona, causing its ancient citizens to cast away their gravity and begin again to "wield old partisans" or partisanships. Their feud is fostering a culture of bloodletting, a forgetting of civility. Thus does he justify his death sentence, the likely sentence for Saddam, and appropriate for the same reason

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Bard on Brad (Jen and Angelina)


"There's nothing ill can dwell in such a temple.
If the ill spirit have so fair a house,
Good things will strive to dwell with 't."

That's Miranda's opinion about Ferdinand, offered in The Tempest. Do we agree? Do people like Brad, Jennifer and Angelina find good things striving to dwell within the fair houses of their fair bodies? Do their arresting bone structures and pleasant wrappings of flesh compel what is ill to flee from entry?

Well, Miranda, we should remember, was abandoned from the age of three with her dispossessed father on a desert island. Ferdinand was the first normal guy that she encountered.

"You are the cruelest she alive
If you will lead these graces to the grave
And leave the world no copy."

Viola says this to Olivia in Twelfth Night. It is a favorite theme of Shakespeare's, the obligation to perpetuate one's graces through reproduction. Infertility is a tragedy or at least a challenge for many married couples, who have with solemn dignity pledged themselves to each other in marriage, hopeful of children, and have then met with this difficult fate. For many adoption follows. But Brad can't adopt unless he marries someone, or unless someone marries him. Meanwhile Angelina is effectively cuckolding Brad with the children of other men (if of other women as well), right before our eyes:

"...On each side her
Stood pretty dimpled boys, like smiling cupids,
With divers-coloured fans, whose wind did seem
To glow the delicate cheeks which they did cool,
And what they undid did."

A description of Cleopatra offered by Enobarbus. The smiling cupids are hers, not Brad's. Yup, Brad is starting to look a wee bit foolish, with aspirations toward love, marriage and possible fatherhood - all pleasantly set aside in favor of a swamp of sex. While exceptions need to be made for a woman like Angelina, it's all just a bit unbecoming in a forty-year-old man. He might've kept his mouth shut about his conflicting desires.

"To you your father should be as a god;
One that composed your beauties, yea, and one
To whom you are but as a form in wax
By him imprinted..."

Theseus in Midsummer's Night Dream. I thought I'd be writing about the catfight between the two women, but I find myself focusing on Mr. Pitt, a strangly passive figure being publicly eaten alive by Angelina, as his mature years dwindle away, the woman he might find to realize this happy ambition (if Angelina won't permit him to jump on the runaway train of her own single-mothered family) still unsought, unfound, their relationship unforged.

But I have my objections to Jen and Angelina as well. Ordinarily it would be none of our business as to why these two ladies don't or didn't want to bear children. But it's obvious by now that they are both playing to the crowd, Jen for sympathy, and Angelina by waving her beauty like a magic wand that can wash away the knowledge of how bad her movies have been, what a low opinion of her audience they reveal.

As public figures these women owe a certain deference to the millions of couples who do marry, and who stay married, who do render society more orderly and dignified by removing their volatile sexual desires from the public sphere, who do desire to bear children and to bear all the related sacrifices of child-rearing within the stable home of marriage. Theirs are serious lives, and they should not be lived under the checkout line shadow of such frivilous ones.

"Thou art thy mother's glass, and she in thee
Calls back the lovely April of her prime."

P.S. Here's a related post from the newly discovered (for bardseye) A Blog For All.

P.S.: Here a related and recommendable post from the always recommendable Betsy's Page.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Bard on the Miers Nomination


"Thou seek'st the greatness that will overwhelm thee."

I had a few choices for this one, just like President Bush did, but I've decided to go with Henry IV, Act 4 scene 4. I know what you're thinking - was this Henry IV Part One or Henry IV Part Two?. Can't get much past you, can I? It was Part Two, le sequel.

King Henry says the above line to his son Prince Henry, also known as Hal, and later to be known as Henry V. Hal has been struggling with his youthful spirits, constantly led astray by the larger-than-life Falstaff. He will eventually undergo a profound tranformation into the wise ruler we see in Henry V, the next play in Shakespeare's history series . Miers too, as we know, has undergone profound transformations, changing religions and political parties, struggling we all hope successfully to come into a full maturity.

Hal walks in on his father when he's asleep. Thinking him dead, Hal takes the crown into the next room and weeps over it. His father awakens and suspects his son of ambition. They argue, but at last Henry is assured of his son's great love, and reciprocates it. We see the same sort of bond, forged over time and shared adversity, now existing between President Bush and his personal attorney.

"...God knows, my son,
By what by-paths and indirect crook'd ways
I met this crown; and I myself know well
How troublesome it sat upon my head..."

Our democratic party-affiliated readers will savor this passage. Miers, but of course I mean Hal, assures her client, I mean his father, of the legitimacy of his rule:

"...My gracious liege,
You won it, wore it, kept it, gave it me;
Then plain and right must my possession be..."

And so too would Miers' rule, in a judicial position in many ways co-extensive with the presidency, extend beyond her father's, I mean the President's.

"Thou seek's the greatness that will overwhelm thee."

Henry says this earlier, before he is won over to full confidence in his son. Miers of course oversaw the selection process for Bush's previous judicial picks, including the strict vetting of candidates. Though she did decline once the crown of nomination, she accepted the second offer, and when she did she exempted herself from the same vetting process. Only a personal friendship could support such an exemption, which is now getting her nomination into trouble and harming her client's - the President's - interests. But then I suppose he is now her former client.

Thus it is that I feel an accusation of ambition is justified against Miers. And when I refer to ambition I mean the wrong kind, the kind Brutus killed Caesar over, not the good kind, that led let's say Roberts to devote himself for over 30 years to developing an expertise that rendered him at last deserving of his nomination. Like Hal.

Yes, I think Henry IV Part Deux will do quite well for Miers. This will now leave me free to move onto something lighter, like Brad, Jen and Angelina. Actually Falstaff, in this same play, has an eventful dinner with two competing women, Doll Tearsheet and Mistress Quickly. One of them has sued him over a proposal he denies making while the other applauds everything he does. That may well do for Brad's triangle. I'll be thinking it through.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

King John, Played By Saddam Hussein


"There is no sure foundation set on blood."

It's hard to read King John and keep Saddam out of your head. Shakespeare doesn't have King John announce his villainy like Richard the Third. His evil choices are borne of personal weakness, and if this makes him less satisfying as a villain, it makes him probably more believable. Watching Saddam in court as he vacillates between denying the proceedings and practicing amateur legal maneuvers, you see someone who has made a successful career out of lying to himself about his true nature, or what his nature has truly become.

John is much the same.King John's nephew Arthur is a young boy with a rival claim to the throne. We'll let Arthur be a stand-in for democracy, accountability, legitimacy. Like Saddam, John's against it. John takes Andrew's keeper, Hubert, aside:

"I had a thing to say, - but let it go;
The sun is in the heaven, and the proud day,
attended with the pleasures of the world,
Is all too wanton and too full of gawds
To give me audience;"

He has a little trouble getting to the point. Daytime is not his idiom, and he knows enough to admit it. Saddam certainly spent his share of time avoiding the light of day. And just this morning he objected to sunlight being brought to bear on audiotapes which apparently will incriminate him.

" - If the midnight bell
Did, with his iron tongue and brazen mouth,
Sound one unto the drowsy ear of night;
If this same were a churchyard where we stand,
And thou possessed with a thousand wrongs;"

John would prefer it if Hubert were possessed of a thousand wrongs. Just the thing to look for in a friend. Hubert's virtue, even as it guarantees his loyalty, is abrasive to John. And when, by the way, will he be able to get to the point?

"Or if that surly spirit, melancholy,
Had baked thy blood, and made it heavy, thick, -
Which else runs tickling up and down the veins,
Making that idiot, laughter, keep men's eyes,
And strain their cheeks to idle merriment -
A passion hateful to my purposes, -"

Human as he looks on stage (or in Saddam's case, wielding a rifle before a dutiful rent-a-crowd while wearing a suit and what I believe was a bowler hat), the guy's starting to seem not just non-human, but defined by whatever being human isn't. It's laughter that's grating on him this time. Meanwhile Hubert's waiting for his orders.

"Or if that thou couldst see me without eyes,
Hear me without thine ears, and make reply
Without a tongue, using conceit alone,
Without eyes, ears, and harmful sound of words,
Then, in despite of brooded watchful day,
I would into thy bosom pour my thoughts."

Let's have those sensory organs removed Hubert! Now even eyes and ears and tongues are making John/Saddam uncomfortable. We see the plastic shredders into which victims were fed, the surgical removal of the hands of those Saddam felt might oppose him.

"Oh Hubert, Hubert, Hubert, throw thine eye
On yon young boy; I'll tell thee what, my friend,
He is a very serpent in my way."

Hubert gets the point. "Death," says John. "He shall not live," Hubert replies. Hubert escorts Arthur onto a ship which will take Arthur to his place of imprisonment. During the voyage, Hubert opens a letter from King John. It commands him to put out Arthur's eyes with a hot iron. Arthur, standing in for the ghosts of the Iraqi dead, who indeed now have no tongues to speak for themselves, pleads modestly for an amended torture:

"Oh Hubert, if you will, cut out my tongue,
So I may keep mine eyes: O spare mine eyes;
Though to no use but still to look on you!"

Hubert loses his nerve, or gains his nerve, and relents. Arthur is spared and hidden. He will die later while trying to escape from the tower Hubert hides him in. Ironically, this occurs after John has lost his nobles' support when they hear that Arthur is dead and suspect John of the crime. Hubert, at that future time, tells John that Arthur is alive and John runs to collect him in order to win his nobles back. But the boy's body is found at the foot of the tower, by the nobles, the people of Iraq, who by now have had enough.
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