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

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Twelfth Night, Fools and Cartoons


In Twelfth Night, Malvolio is a sort of chief servant to Lady Olivia. Embodying a sternness and intolerance that could well serve as a proxy for Islamic Fundamentalism, Malvolio derides Feste, who is Lady Olivia's fool:

Mal: "I marvel your ladyship takes delight in such
a barren rascal. I saw him put down the other day
with an ordinary fool that has no more brain than
a stone. Look you now, he's out of his guard already.
Unless you laugh and minister occasion to him, he
is gagged…."

Feste, as a court fool or jester, had the unique right to speak his mind freely to his Ladyship, which makes it fair to label him Free Expression, just as we have labelled Malvolio Islamic Fundamentalism.

Now, as I'm sure we all agree, free expression lies at the heart, and hopefully at the still-beating heart, of our modern civilization, indeed it is one of the few remaining values about whose importance members of modern democracies, however much we may disagree on taxes, foreign policy, abortion, religion, the environment, guns and gays, can still agree.

Bardseye wishes he could say that Feste equally represents the Free Press, but ironically, and sadly, our Free Press, in its recent refusal to reprint those pesky Muhammad Cartoons, can no longer be said to represent Free Expression. Here's Feste:

Feste: "…Good Madonna, give me leave to prove
you a fool."

Olivia: "Can you do it?"

Feste: "Dexterously, good Madonna."

Olivia: "Make your proof."

Feste: "I must catechize you for it, Madonna.

Good my mouse of virtue, answer me."

Olivia: "Well, sir, for want of other idleness,

I'll bide your proof."

Feste: "Good Madonna, why mourn'st thou?"

Olivia: "Good fool, for my brother's death."

Feste: "I think his soul is in hell, Madonna."

Olivia: "I know his soul is in heaven, fool."

Feste: "The more fool, Madonna, to mourn for your
brother's soul, being in heaven. Take away the fool,

Feste engages in an unbridled and fearless taunting of Olivia, even though she's his boss, in order to shock her out of her mourning for her late brother, which has persisted for seven years. The free speech he speaks can be provocative and unpleasant. Our immediate response may be to think of how much more comfortable might be a society that banned such verbal bad behavior. But as his conversation with Olivia reaches its conclusion we recognize the kindness and sympathy Feste is showing her. She is steeped in sadness, veiled (not, though, in observance of sharia law, Bardseye notes in passing) and her gifts of love and beauty are falling to waste.

Only someone with license to speak truth to power can make her mindful of what is being lost. Just as only the free expression of ideas today, including such noxious ideas as may be embodied in those Muhammad Cartoons (if indeed those ideas are noxious – who knows unless the cartoons are published for our review?), can lift the veil on our reality.

Here Olivia responds to Militant Islam's murderous worldwide rampage against free expression; that is, she responds to Malvolio's rant against Feste:

Olivia: "O, you are sick of self-love, Malvolio, and
taste with a distempered appetite. To be generous,
guiltless, and of free disposition is to take those things
for bird-bolts that you deem cannon bullets. There is
no slander in an allowed fool, though he do nothing
but rail, nor no railing in a known discreet man, though
he do nothing but reprove."

Yes, like Malvolio, radical Islam is indeed sick of self-love, and tastes with a distempered appetite, taking for cannon bullets a set of cartoons (for heaven's sake) that more soberly would be regarded as bird-bolts (and there's a timely reference, considering our US Vice President's recent contretemps with birdshot).

If only our newspapers and TV news shows resembled Feste, as they should, and had the courage to perform their essential function, to present to us relevant information without fear or favor.

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